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Prom dress giveaway in Columbia draws nearly 400 girls

On most Saturdays, Atholton High School’s cafeteria is barren — devoid of the food and clamor that make it a commonplace for teenagers to cram for exams and exchange gossip accrued throughout the day.

But last Saturday, the Columbia school’s cafeteria seemed to retain the aura it’s most familiar with on weekdays thanks to a prom dress giveaway hosted by Becca’s Closet and Howard County’s chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.

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The event drew nearly 400 girls from six Maryland counties including Howard, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Charles, as well as Washington, D.C., Baltimore city and New Jersey, according to Kathy Barrett, a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. It was meant to help girls whose parents could not afford prom dresses find the perfect gowns for the special night.

The event was also a space for freedom and affirmation often given by coordinators like Barrett who would offer a “girl, those are cute on you” to those trying on shoes, jewelry or dresses.

Barrett said the event was in its sixth year and was running entirely on donations from community members and the Discovery Channel. Her sorority budgeted to contribute $750 for the event, but said it was unlikely those funds would have to be used.

Most of the tables and chairs in the cafeteria were traded for an open space for the girls and their mothers to peruse shoes, jewelry and 10 clothing racks to find the perfect dress, or two, to stun their prom dates.

Surprisingly, the dresses were not the most stunning aspect of the event.

The real magic occurred in a room connected to the cafeteria where the girls were allowed to try on their selections. The four stalls, which were consistently full throughout the event, were sometimes forgone by girls who opted to crouch behind a stack of chairs and try on their selections. If the dress didn’t fit just right, at least two women located on the opposite side of the room were there to make simple alterations for the girls when needed.

After a dress was selected, a makeup specialist was on standby to help girls with products to match the dresses selected.

If you were to exit the cafeteria on that Saturday morning, you would have seen a woman dressed in a royal blue T-shirt who, nearly every three minutes, hyped up girls who toiled through 10 racks of dresses to find an impeccable choice.

“Did she say yes to the dress?” the volunteer from Zeta Phi Beta asked a mother standing next to her daughter, holding a long, bedazzled dress.

“She said yes to the dress,” the mother replied, taking a silver cowbell and ringing it in celebration.

In addition to being the cowbell caretaker, the volunteer guarded items on a table that could only be received through a raffle.

Ange Epangue, a junior at Wilde Lake High School, was one of the few who succeeded in winning a prize. Ange, who is going to the prom with her friends, won a basket of body butters, rose water and bath salts which she will likely use the night of prom, she said. In addition to taking home the prize, Ange will have a green bedazzled dress with gold heels to wear at the dance.

Ange said she was thankful to organizers for helping “people who couldn’t afford prom dresses” and that she expected her prom “to be very lit.”

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