HILLSIDE, NJ — They wore dresses of ruby red, seafoam green, and muted silver.
Almost a dozen senior girls from Hillside High School strutted their stuff on the runway in search of the perfect dress for their upcoming prom — and there were plenty to choose from.
The Prom Gown Giveaway, spearheaded by longtime Hillside resident Felisha Rich and Hillside town councilman Sip Whitaker, collected 12 designer gowns from community members, including Whitaker’s wife, who donated three of the gowns. The giveaway was held this past Friday at the high school auditorium.
Rich, a beauty professional and licensed cosmetologist who also happens to live next door to Whitaker, said that she reached out to people on social media to jumpstart the donations. “I just appealed to my facebook fans and friends and asked them to donate any appropriate dresses that they had,” said Rich, who operates her own company, called Everything Beauty 415. “I like to give back to my community.”
Whitaker, who heads the Hillside Civic Association — a nonprofit group whose mission it is to help the community through a variety of programs such as job fairs, tutoring, summer lunches for students, and food giveaways — said that he got emotional as he watched the girls’ faces light up as they posed with their new prom dresses. “I was getting teary-eyed,” said Whitaker. “They all looked so pretty.”
Whitaker, who donates the salary he earns as councilman to the civic association, said that initially the girls were hesitant to participate in the program but eventually changed their minds. “A lot of times their pride kicks in, but then at the last moment they tell their parents that they’re glad they got a gown. Growing up poor, well…you know how it is. People need it.”
Hillside High School principal Christine Sidwa, who helped coordinate the program and who was on hand to help the girls try on and select their dresses, said that the event exceeded her expectations. “It was beyond my expectations,” said Sidwa. “It really took on a life of its own, and I was so happy to be a part of that life. It was such a joy for me.”
Rich said that she plans on holding the event every year. “This is gonna be an annual situation,” said Rich. “As long as we’re neighbors, we’re gonna be here. Anything that makes a girl feel beautiful — I want to be a part of that.”
Superintendent Zende Clark, board of education member Nagy Sileem, and senior class advisor Christine Graham were also present at the event.