Elayne Riggs' Journal (for Leah)

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Power of One


"I was looking through all the sequins and the beads and the glitter, and I realized that in New Orleans so many girls wouldn't feel that joy you feel at prom -- all because of the devastation of Katrina," West recalled. "I thought I could help restore at least one of their high school traditions that they wouldn't have otherwise."

But after her quest was featured in a Washington Post story, it was picked up by CNN, ABC, People magazine and Time. Donations started pouring in, eventually coming from every state but Hawaii. Ten days later, the Beltsville post office called, West said, a little peeved that there were so many boxes. We'll be right over, said West's mother, Leathia, 48, a psychotherapist and ceramics teacher.

Better bring a truck, the postmaster said.

Dresses came from sorority girls cleaning out their closets, from failed and successful pageant queens of yore, from people touched by the story. One man sent one of his late wife's evening dresses, as a tribute to her.

Jilted bridesmaids gave big. About 50 sent dresses, many still with tags. They'd include notes. "They'd say, 'I was supposed to be in this wedding, but it never happened,' " West said.

Ultimately, there were 2,800 dresses, sizes from 2 to 2x, the piles of sequined tulle and satin and lace covering almost every inch of available space in their brick Colonial in Beltsville. (There were even four Vera Wangs.)

West's personal favorite was sent by a donor from Virginia: a bright pink confection with a tulle skirt that she calls "the Cupcake Dress."

The donor, Melinda Ball, a real estate broker from Strasburg, said she was so moved by West's story that she went to her two daughters' closets to see if they would part with some of their old prom attire.

"And there was that Cinderella dress taking up closet space," she said.

I had to wipe away a few tears after reading this one. Kudos to Marisa for believing in something enough to just step up and do it. I think the true simplicity of this type of thinking often escapes people. One teenage girl brought the prom to ten entire high schools. That's bigger than even Cinderella's faery godmother's best work.