- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Twenty-three Cinderellas traveled on a recent Tuesday morning by school bus, not a magically transformed pumpkin.

But at the back of the Belk at Tallywood shopping center, they found a storeroom that had been transformed - into a temporary browsing space filled with racks of beautiful formal dresses, available to them for free.

It was the opening morning of Cinderella’s Closet, a two-week program put on each year by the Fayetteville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority with help from Belk Tallywood, the Cumberland County schools and several consignment and jewelry stores.

The program aims to provide a free formal outfit to junior and senior high school girls who want to go to their prom but can’t afford all of the extra costs. Girls contact the social worker or prom advisor at their school if they want to participate.

Formal dresses, shoes, jewelry, clutches and wraps are donated for the closet by businesses and individuals. And sorority members often dig into their own pockets if a girl needs an accessory that’s not on hand.

Over the past eight years, more than 500 girls have gotten prom dresses through the program. Sorority members said they hoped to help 100 or more girls this year.

A week and a half into this year’s closet, they’ve already helped dozens.

To keep things manageable, the sorority schedules times for groups from each high school to visit the closet. Appointments are made in order of prom dates.

Since E.E. Smith and Douglas Byrd high schools have the earliest proms - both on Thursday - their girls came the first day, Smith’s in the morning and Byrd’s in the afternoon.

As the first Cinderellas of the year, the 23 Smith students had the widest selection to choose from - more than 300 dresses, ranging in size from zero to 30.

They then headed to nearby dressing rooms where a steady stream of oohs and ahs could be heard from their classmates and the sorority members.

“Ooh, that’s pretty.”

“Oh, that’s a nice color on you.”

Smith social worker Holly Van Dyke said the program takes some financial stress off the girls and their families, especially for seniors who are faced with other extra costs.

Several girls said they don’t know how they would have afforded a prom dress without the help of Cinderella’s Closet.

One, a senior, said this will be her first and last prom and she’s glad she now has a dress, shoes and earrings for the event.

The sorority members seemed to be enjoying the dress selection process as much as the girls.

“I haven’t done this since my daughter went to the prom,” said Brenda Rouse. “I think this is more fun.”

Jerial Bogan, a sorority member who helped coordinate this year’s closet, said she loves to see the smiles on the faces of the girls getting dresses.

“It’s also really rewarding to see girls who come back and say thank you because without the closet they couldn’t have gone to prom,” she said. “The reward is to see them happy.”

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Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com

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