Dozens of racks filled with sparkly dresses flood hotel rooms. Girls giggle in the frosty pre-dawn air and wait with sheer anticipation while hundreds of volunteers rush around wildly assembling last-minute dressing rooms and seamstress stations.
It’s chaos. It’s excitement. It’s a familiar scene.
Or at least it has been for the past six years, when Abby Egland, a University of Oregon alumna, founded Abby’s Closet.
The nonprofit began in 2004, Egland said, when she moved off campus and her mom asked her what she was going to do with the prom dresses in her closet.
They called multiple secondhand stores in the region only to discover that the stores just didn’t have room for the dresses.
“I wanted them to go to girls who would wear them again,” Egland said.
Now Abby’s Closet is a full-fledged operation that attracts thousands of girls from across the state.
For the past two years, Linfield’s Alpha Phi Sorority has worked with Abby’s Closet to help donate dresses for its annual April giveaway, Cameron Bays, class of ’09, said.
Junior Alpha Phi Sorority member Amy Kestek, who is in charge of collecting dresses for Alpha Phi this year, began gathering dresses last week and will continue to collect donations until after Spring Break.
“I just think this is a really great opportunity to share what we have,” Kestek said.
If Linfield students want to donate but don’t have dresses with them, they have a chance to pack them during Spring Break, Kestek said.
New and used dresses are accepted.
“If someone wants to donate but doesn’t have a dress, Ross has a great selection of cheap dresses,” Kestek said.
Since joining Abby’s closet as the college drive coordinator last spring, Bays has worked diligently to help other sororities get on board, either to volunteer at the giveaway or to help collect gowns.
“Last year, [Abby’s Closet] collected more than 4,500 dresses, and girls came from two-to-three hours away to show up,” Bays said.
With so many dresses to choose from, it’s hard to disappoint. But the organization has always struggled to build a strong selection for size 0 to 4 and 16 and above, Bays said.
“We just don’t have those donations, and for some girls, if they don’t have a dress, they don’t go,” Egland said.
This year, Egland said she anticipates there will be even more girls at the event than last year, with an expected attendance of about 3,000 high school girls.
For Egland and Bays, the event makes the planning and coordinating worthwhile.
“We have this long line of girls, and there’s pink everywhere,” Bays said.
At each event, hairdressers and makeup artists hired by volunteers help the girls envision how they will look at prom, Egland said.
“These girls come in with their sweatpants and walk out with their dresses on and makeup and hair done — we try to make it fun,” she said.
Each year when Egland looks at the line of girls waiting to get their pass, she said she can’t believe how Abby’s Closet has grown throughout the region.
“We thought it would just be a one-time thing,” she said. “It started as a small idea and turned into something really big.”
This year’s event will take place April 10 and 11 at the DoubleTree Hotel near Lloyd Center in Portland.
To help fill Abby’s Closet this year, contact Kestek at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.abbyscloset.org to learn where to drop off your gowns to one of the 40 sites in Oregon and Southeast Washington.
Senior reporter Chelsea Langevin can be reached at email@example.com