WARNER ROBINS -- Until late January, every afternoon is prom night for a group of Warner Robins High School students.
They spend their evenings sifting through colorful gowns, contemplating garment prices and preparing for the big day. That day is Jan. 26, when the student council will host its Demon Dress Drive. Students need dress donations to pull off the event, which gives many girls, who otherwise could not afford an expensive dress, a chance to attend prom in style.
Its a big deal, said Ashley McKinney, 17, a senior and student council member. You expect to go out and find a prom dress for $400.
But these dresses, some of which have not been worn, are $50 or less, and the profits are donated to charity. Last year, about $4,000 was split between two organizations: the Sharks, a Houston County schools sports program for students with physical disabilities, and Project Giving, a nonprofit group that helps Middle Georgia families with chronic illnesses. Student council also has given dresses to some students who struggle with poverty or other personal problems.
It started as a service for our girls here at Warner Robins High School, said Barbara Hilliard, student council adviser. I didnt envision wed make that much money.
But the dress sale has become a hit, with long lines of people waiting to snag an expensive dress for a low price. Its become so popular that shoppers must browse dresses in shifts, but it didnt begin that way.
The event started nine years ago with a group of students who had big hearts, Hilliard said. They had heard of similar prom dress sales in other parts of the country and decided to host their own as a way to help students who could not afford to attend prom. The students knew friends and relatives who still had their old prom dresses, and, before long, they garnered some donations. That year, they sold 75 dresses and made $700.
We didnt have any idea what we were doing, Hilliard said.
But the sale continued, and profits doubled the second year. Sponsors, from gown shops to jewelry salesmen, jumped aboard, and the sale became the student councils biggest event of the year.
The line goes all the way down the school hallway, said Shakera Bader, 17, a senior and student council member.
As the economy weakened, sales spiked. Last year, about 250 dresses were sold, and students hope to sell that many this year, they said.
But to reach that goal, they need more donations. They have a few gowns that were donated this year or left over from last years sale. A classroom closet holds gowns of all shapes, colors and sizes, from short, sparkling frocks to long, billowy dresses to wedding gowns.
Hilliard remembers one year, when someone donated five expensive bridesmaids dresses. The students took the dresses but were not sure they could ever sell them. During the sale, a woman who was getting married in two weeks dropped by. She had a very low budget and could not afford bridesmaids gowns that were sold in stores. But Warner Robins had the exact number and sizes of dresses the woman needed, Hilliard said.
Those five dresses, she got them all under $100, she said. The mother cried at the check-out table.
She also remembers the time a girl from another school, whose mother had just died of cancer, came to Warner Robins for a dress. The girl was going to prom with a Warner Robins student, who knew about the dress sale. When the girl tried on her second dress, she was just like Cinderella, Hilliard said.
Her boyfriend started pulling his cash out of his pocket, and I said, No. This is yours, she said, adding the girl started crying. I think he was going to cry, too.
Even girls who are in the student council opt to buy prom dresses from their own sale.
Not only does the money go to important causes, but its a good deal on a dress that otherwise would cost hundreds of dollars, they say.
Over the next few weeks, students will spend hours after school preparing the dresses for sale and transforming the cafeteria into a dress shop. They build their own dressing rooms out of pipes and sheets, serve refreshments and set up spaces to sell prom accessories.
But its worth the hard work, students say.
Seeing peoples faces, its just priceless, McKinney said.
Donations can be dropped off at the Warner Robins High School front office during school hours. The student council requests that all donations are made by Jan. 15. The sale is Jan. 26 from noon to 4 p.m. at the school.