The chance to get a free beautiful prom dress was offered for the first time at Madras High School through a program run by teacher Juanita Payton.
"My friend in Redmond, Toni Dunlap Duff, has been doing this at Redmond High School for 10 years, and has given away thousands of dresses," Payton said.
Payton had been getting the word out that MHS girls could participate in the Redmond program until her friend said, "Why don't you do your own program?"
"She gave me 75 dresses to start, and some were brand new from The Dress Store in Redmond, which closed," Payton said.
"I got some donated through Facebook, and Facebook Marketbook, then the KTVZ news clip on Redmond's giveaway came out and I started getting tons of dresses after she mentioned the Madras program," she said.
Payton also sent out fliers asking for gently used dresses and got additional gowns donated from Culver and Bend.
With a total of 140 donated prom dresses, Payton set the dress giveaway for April 18, at 3:30 p.m., and opened it to girls from MHS, Culver High School, Bridges High School and the Warm Springs Roots program.
"I have all styles and lengths. Some are out of date, but we will use them for drama," said Payton, who does the costuming and helps with the MHS plays.
Some needed to be cleaned and some needed sewing, which Payton was able to do, and others pitched in to help her.
"(School counselor) Julie Nisley donated her steamer, so I'll steam the dresses after the girls pick them out. And if guys have pants, I can steam them, too," she said, to get the wrinkles out.
The dresses were hung on three metal racks, provided by Payton, and she said any dresses left over will be stored in the drama costume storage area for next year's giveaway.
Madras High School's prom is May 4, and Culver High School's is April 27.
"Afterwards, I'd appreciate girls bringing the dresses back, but they don't have to — it's their dress," Payton said, observing, "Some of them are classic styles and will be in style for 10 years."
On April 18, an MHS classroom was a lively shopping scene, as girls arrived to sort through the racks of formal dresses, which ranged from sophisticated black and white, to ones with flashy ruffles, to a '70s style kaleidoscope patterned dress.
Girls could try on dresses in a nearby bathroom, and some tried several before finding the right one.
MHS senior Marissa Andy selected a long black and white dress with sparkles. "I like how they have a range of dresses, with variety and sizes," she said.
Victoria Pla, an MHS senior, chose a short aqua dress. "This is really cool, because a lot in Madras can't afford a dress because they're so out there in price — that's the reason I didn't go to prom last year. This is a way we can look nice and go to prom," she said.
Culver freshman Stacy Taylor found her favorite dress right away, a floor-length navy blue one. "It's a cool program for people who don't want to go out and spend a bunch of money on a dress," she commented.
Drama student and Payton's teacher's assistant Madison McCool and her boyfriend (and prom date) Miguel Santellano helped girls with directions and reminded them to sign a sheet once they selected a dress.
"If you can't decide on a dress, we're here to help," McCool said, as Santellano gave several a guy's opinion. McCool said she got her own prom dress on sale at an out-of-town thrift store.
Culver junior Karmen Horat picked out a long, green, strapless gown. "I think it's really fun and a good way to help students get dresses. There's a lot of pressure to get a really fancy dress, but not everyone can afford it," she said.
One girl, MHS senior Allison DeRoo, took McCool and Santellano up on their offer to help select a dress, and with their encouragement, selected a long purple dress, with a sequined top.
"This is really good, especially for our community, because all of us don't have money to buy one and this gives us an opportunity to have a nice dress," she said.
Another aspect may be added to the program later. "In the future, we're thinking of doing a hair and makeup day — not the day of prom, but to teach girls how, because they want to look pretty and for some it's just not their thing," Payton said.
For this year, Thursday's dress giveaway brought the excitement of shopping and a lot of happy smiles to many girls, who otherwise might not be going to the prom.
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