High school students ‘walk the red carpet’ to choose their prom dress

Allie Kong, left to right, Merelle Hanna and Kiera Gilmore in their prom dress selections.

SOUTH BRUNSWICK – Complete with a red carpet, red ropes, the Hollywood skyline – and even some “paparazzi” – South Brunswick High School’s Viking Closet’s Prom Dress Event offered girls from the area an opportunity to feel beautiful before prom.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 19, the “VIPS” (students) were able to browse through hundreds of dresses that were sorted and sized, said Carla Garcia, a social worker at the school who is also the Viking Closet advisor.

The girls were able to try on as many dresses as they wanted and then literally strut the runway, she said.

“The Viking Closet Club members worked hard for months pulling the event together after two years of not being able to hold the event. We had music, free raffles, jewelry, shoes and pocketbooks. VIPs who attended were able to ‘shop’ a complete prom look, all for free,” she said.

The annual event was open to South Brunswick students, as well as school districts in the area, such as New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Hightstown, West Windsor and South River.
“We had about 70 students attend, 58 of which left with dresses, many with two dresses. We had over 800 dresses to start, all of which were lovingly donated by community members.
“We had several parents that attended with their young adults. Comments were, ‘I had goosebumps walking in. This is such a special day for my daughter.’ ‘I cried seeing how happy my daughter was in the dress she found. Thank you so much for today.’ ‘My daughter was able to attend the event this morning. Let me just say, thank you, thank you, thank you for the opportunity to go to the event. She found the gown she dreamed of. My little one said the gown she found exceeded her expectations. I am a single mom of four and became anxious that I wouldn’t be able to see her smile when preparing for her prom. I will share this experience with everyone I know. I appreciate receiving an invitation and thank you so much for making this possible.’ “
The goal of the event was two-fold, Garcia said: to help students find the perfect dress and to upcycle, keeping dresses out of the landfill.
There was no financial requirement to attend the event. Participants were allowed to make a donation of either food for the South Brunswick Food Pantry or a monetary donation to offset the costs of running future events, she said.
Garcia said the largest business sponsor is Lola’s in Manalapan.
“This is the second year in a row that Melanie, the owner of Lola’s, had donated over 30 brand new dresses with tags. She is truly amazing as she sees the magic that this event spreads to students,” she said.
Garcia said she and co-advisor Rosa Mariano-Brandao could not be more proud of the club members.
“We have an amazing executive board who has shown such great leadership in coordinating the reopening of the Viking Closet. We are a free clothing store located in the South Brunswick High School and after being closed for almost two years, the closet is open for business again. We have seasonally-appropriate clothing for students to shop for during lunch and after school.
“The clothing is again donated by the community and the items that we have received during the school year have been spectacular. Many items come in new with tags and it has been a good teachable moment for our students. They will shop in amazement and question why someone would give these items away when they are practically, or really are, brand new. We help the students recognize that while the donors’ tastes and sizes may have changed, leading to a donation, rehoming and reloving clothes is good for all,” Garcia said.
This year, Sen. Andrew Zwicker’s office, of New Jersey’s 16th Legislative District – Zwicker is also a South Brunswick resident – organized a winter coat drive for the Viking Closet, resulting in a donation of 13 brand new coats for the closet. 
Donations of prom dresses and South Brunswick Viking Wear is accepted year-round. Donations of other new and gently used clothing are accepted on a rolling basis as room is available. Community members can email [email protected] to discuss a clothing donation.
Follow the Viking Closet on Instagram @SBHSVikingCloset to learn about future events.