SOUTHINGTON — What was once home to the town’s finance department and filled with desks and paperwork, has been transformed into a mini, temporary boutique filled with a sea of colorful prom dresses.
Volunteers were busy hanging hundreds of gowns and organizing them by size and style Thursday afternoon. Some assembled clothing racks and priced gowns while others sorted through shoes. They were preparing for the grand opening of Kristen’s Kloset on Saturday, a once-a-year program providing free and discounted prom dresses to teens across the state whose families can’t afford to buy a new dress. It operates out of the vacant Gura Building on Main Street.
Kristen’s Kloset was named after Southington student Kristen Warner, who died in a car accident in 2004. Warner’s family created the program in her memory.
As part of her senior service project for The Gunnery school in Washington, Southington resident Meghan Lembo helped collect 30 gowns to donate to Kristen’s Kloset. By using Twitter and Facebook, Lembo was able to communicate with people around town and gather dresses.
“I wanted other girls to experience what I had experienced too,” said Lembo, who also donated the dress she wore to her junior prom.
Available dresses range from sleek silky satin dresses and short, fun party dresses to big and bedazzled ball gowns. There are also jewelry, shoes, and purses for girls to browse through.
Some donations are worn and some are brand new with tags still attached. Some donations, about eight of them, were created by Sandi Varsell, who has been volunteering with Kristen’s Kloset for the past four years. Varsell wanted to design beautiful gowns in larger sizes to give girls more options.
As she gently unzipped her bag containing the dresses, Varsell pulled out a long, orange dress with sheer material around the neck dressed with sparkles. After setting the gown on the rack she then grabbed a silver and gray ruffled party dress with rhinestones at the top.
“You made that?” said Deb Lembo, Meghan’s mother, as she stared at the silver dress and held it at the bottom to get a better look. “No sir. Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful. I cannot believe you made those.”
“You feel bad when these girls come in and we don’t have anything,” Varsell said. “I like doing it; it’s nice to give back.”
Last year volunteers at Kristen’s Kloset helped distribute 261 dresses to girls across the state and even in other states, said Sue Saucier, director of Southington Youth Services. Last year, by 12:30 p.m. on opening day girls flocking to Kristen’s Kloset formed a line for fitting rooms almost out the door, Saucier said.
“I hope we get a lot of girls this year,” Saucier said.
Girls from more than 50 towns have visited Kristen’s Kloset since it started eight years ago, said Jean Minahan, a volunteer.
“It grows every year,” added volunteer Sue Sokolowski.
Nearly 400 dresses that have been donated are brand new, Saucier said. She pointed to a rack full of dresses and pulled out a yellow ball gown.
“Look, it’s beautiful,” Saucier said as she held the fabric.
Donations for brand new dresses are $35 and the older dresses are $25. Monetary donations go toward purchasing boy’s tuxedos.
Girls visiting Kristen’s Kloset must bring their high school identification card in order to get a dress. To receive a gown at no cost, students must bring a voucher or slip from their school guidance counselor.
The grand opening is Saturday, March 8 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Kristen’s Kloset will be open for a month and the hours are Tuesday 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until May 10.