Princess Project seeks prom dresses for low-income teens
January is crunch time to get gowns donatedBy Caroline Dipping7:27 A.M.JAN. 15, 2014Jennifer Gaston, chairwoman of The Princess Project San Diego, and volunteer Oshea Piscopo of Chula Vista load a moving truck with prom dresses and other formal gowns to transport to an empty storefront inside Horton Plaza Saturday. Misael Virgen
Dress drives for The Princess Project San Diego are going on now throughout San Diego County. In East and South County, gently used formal dresses are being accepted at the following locations. For a complete list of collection sites and donation guidelines, visit
• Heritage Cleaners, 9122 Fletcher Parkway, La Mesa
• El Cajon Library, 201 E. Douglas Ave., El Cajon
• Christina’s Fashions, 681 Palomar St., Chula Vista
• Sister Dolores’ Thrift Boutique, 293 H St., Chula Vista
• South Chula Vista Library, 380 Orange Ave., Chula Vista
• All Coles Fine Flooring locations in the county
Prom season is months away, but right now, Jennifer Gaston has got strapless bodices, floor-length hemlines, and satin and sequins on the brain. For the chairwoman of The Princess Project San Diego, this month is all about saying “Yes” to the dress.
Maybe even yours.
Through January, Gaston and a legion of community partners are accepting gently used formal dresses of the prom, cocktail, bridesmaid and quinceañera variety. Donations of jewelry, purses, evening wraps and other accessories will also gratefully be accepted.
In March, The Princess Project will distribute the finery to high school girls from low-income families who could not afford to buy a dress for their prom. The dress giveaways will be held at a storefront in San Diego’s Horton Plaza, the Vista Library, the El Cajon Library and, for the very first time, the South Chula Vista Library.Gaston arranges gowns to prepare for the spring giveaway. Misael Virgen
“It’s a big deal,” Gaston said. “So often, it’s the difference between being able to go to prom and not being able to go to prom.
“We really do promote self esteem and inner beauty,” she added. “We make it really special for these girls. It’s not just that we are giving away prom dresses and earrings. We are giving them a chance to feel beautiful.”
This is the sixth year The Princess Project has been ensuring financially challenged girls don’t miss out on this teen rite of passage. There is no stringent application process for a girl to get a dress, but typically they are referred by foster homes, homeless shelters, boys and girls clubs, school counselors and charitable foundations.
Last year, the nonprofit outfitted more than 1,000 girls for prom. The goal for this year’s dress drive is loftier than a tulle skirt: the nonprofit hopes to receive more than 3,000 dresses to serve 1,200 girls. This would provide an ample selection for the teens to choose from and a good head start on building next year’s inventory.
Nationwide, the average cost of going to prom last year was $1,139, according to Visa. Gaston said a prom gown represents a hefty piece of that price tag and can cost upward of $350.
About 40 percent of the girls served by The Princess Project come from South County, Gaston said. That is why she reached out to Joy Whatley, the senior librarian at the South Chula Vista Library to participate in this year’s dress drive and giveaway.
“The South Chula Vista Library is dead center in an area of tremendous need,” Gaston said. “They are thinking of hosting two full days (to give away dresses) because the need is so great and so many girls come from around there.”