NEW PALESTINE — Dressed in a charcoal gray tuxedo, complete with tails and a bow-tie, the young middle school student looked across the room at his classmate — she in a sparkling white wedding dress.
The middle-school pair looked many years their senior as they stood in a group of other sharply dressed eighth-graders on a recent afternoon and listened to Wendy Parish giving tips on drumming up business for Saturday’s annual charity formal wear sale.
Calling the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Doe Creek Middle School, a sale is a bit of a misnomer, Parish admits. A $10 donation per item is recommended, but anyone in need may shop for free, no questions asked.
“Really, this is a giveaway,” Parish said. “Don’t let money keep you from coming.”
To promote Saturday’s event, a handful of Doe Creek Middle School students traded their jeans and T-shirts this week in favor of some of the items up for grabs at the 14th annual event and hit the hallways.
Parish, a local business woman, organizes the fundraiser at Doe Creek Middle School each year just in time for spring and summer major events — namely the prom. Proceeds are divided equally between the school and a designated charity. Last year, the event raised $60,000 to help build three new homes in Haiti.
Parish conducts the event with the help of a crew of volunteers who help organize the dresses and suits — there are more than 1,000 this year — Parish collects year-round.
Parish, whose two daughters are graduates of New Palestine High School, said she came up with the idea several years ago when she got to thinking about the hefty price tag that accompanies sending kids to prom. If parents were offered the opportunity to buy gently used outfits for $10 apiece, she reasoned, they could help ensure a memorable evening for their kids without breaking the bank.
Through the years, Parish has expanded the formal fundraiser to include wedding wear, including tuxedos for men and boys.
This year, Parish plans to split the proceeds evenly between the school and Brandywine Creek Farms — a nonprofit farm in Greenfield dedicated to serving the hungry in the community by providing fresh produce to local pantries.
Farm owners Jonathan and Amanda Lawler own the 30-acre farm, whose goal this year is to provide 500,000 pounds of food to those in need.
Amanda Lawler said she and her husband used to operate as a for-profit farm, but after seeing the need to help the hungry in the community, they sought non-profit status and now rely on fundraisers for support.
Money from this year’s event will go toward planting in the spring, Amanda Lawler said.
Parish says the event is about more than the money raised; she finds joy in seeing those in need get something nice to wear.
“It’s about seeing some kids from inner city high schools and anyone in our community come in and get a dress when they didn’t think they could afford it,” Parish said.
Gillian Pritt, a Doe Creek Middle School eighth-grader, put on a formal gown this week to help promote the event, all the while eyeing the collection to see what she might want to buy for an upcoming school dance. Gillian is also one of the many volunteers from the school who will help Parish during the event.
There isn’t a girl out there who doesn’t dream of being able to get dressed up in a lovely, formal dress — one she can call her own, Gillian said.
“I thought it would be fun to help with the fundraiser and all,” Gillian said. “I really like getting dressed up and feeling pretty.”
Organizers from the event said they will also have vendors on hand and a cookie sale for patrons to enjoy while they shop.
The 14th annual wedding gown and formal wear giveaway offers men’s and women’s evening wear. Shoppers may make a donation, which will be given to charity, or shop for free if they can’t afford to pay.
When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Doe Creek Middle School, 5613 W. County Road 200S, New Palestine.