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Prom dress event organizers hope to give back to community

Ledyard resident Tobie Files has four dress racks in her living room, full of gowns that she hopes to give to young women in the community so they have a prom they will always remember.

Files and other members of St. John's Christian Church in the City of Groton plan to give away the 150 donated dresses, along with other dresses they continue to collect, during a free distribution event Saturday at the church.

East Lyme High School senior Jailene Vazquez-Suarez, 17, on Wednesday evening sifted through the dresses in an array of colors at Files' home, ahead of the event. After missing her junior prom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vazquez-Suarez was looking forward to going to her senior prom and her boyfriend's junior prom.

Vazquez-Suarez was having fun looking through the dresses and, so far, liked a pastel multicolored dress and a shimmery lilac one. Her mother, Josephine Suarez, and Files chatted with her as she picked out dresses.

"I have a very big obsession with style and clothing and dresses and all that," Vazquez-Suarez said. But she said dresses are expensive, and many places don't have a lot of options as far as styles.

As a single mother with three daughters, Files said she knows firsthand that dresses for formal events can be expensive, and costs can add up with the price of tickets, hairstyling, makeup and manicures.

Files said she loves giving back and is happy at the thought of even helping one girl have a prom night to always remember.

She first helped organize a dress distribution in 2018, shortly after she started attending St. John's Christian Church.

Files was inspired after she heard a story about a woman in the Midwest who was collecting and selling formal dresses. Files tried to sell the dresses that were left hanging in her oldest daughter’s closet after she left home, at her daughter’s suggestion.

When that didn’t work out, Files started to think about who she could give the dresses to, and then thought about going bigger.

She presented the idea to her church to have an event to collect gently loved prom dresses or formal gowns from girls in the community who have graduated from high school or who are seniors and are picking out something different.

The idea is "to invite young ladies in the community to pick a formal gown, at no charge, so that they can attend prom without breaking the bank,” according to an event flyer.

Files said the first event helped 12 young women, and a second event in 2019 at her friend Nicki Jackson's Uncasville salon, Glamlabz, helped more than 30 young women.

With the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, Files didn’t hold the event for the past two years, but she was asked this year by a young woman at her church if she was going to hold the event again.

Files realized that there is greater need this year with families facing difficulties during the pandemic, such as parents losing jobs, so she decided to go forward with the event.

“I really think right now people need something like this,” she said. “Especially with these young ladies, there are so many toxic things out in the world that they’re exposed to, and this is a positive thing because they can come, they can have fun, they can relax.”

Their parents also are welcome to attend the event.

"I want these girls to come and find something that they're going to love, and it's no cost, no charge, there's no gimmicks, no catch, just come and have fun," Files said.

The event will include vendors and other giveaways, including “gift baskets and gift certificates from local businesses,” according to the flyer. There also will be a candy buffet.

Files said she is the lead organizer, but she couldn’t do it without her friends, family and all the other supporters at the church who have helped with the events and helped them grow.

People can donate dresses and drop them off the morning of the event.

Files said she wants every teenager to find a dress they love. "I just want them to feel good about themselves."

k.drelich@theday.com

Some of the more than 100 prom dresses, which will be distributed for free on Saturday at St. John's Christian Church in Groton, hang on a rack Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Tobie Files' home in Ledyard. The prom dress giveaway was started in 2018 but was on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic the past two years.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Some of the more than 100 prom dresses, which will be distributed for free on Saturday at St. John's Christian Church in Groton, hang on a rack Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Tobie Files' home in Ledyard. The prom dress giveaway was started in 2018 but was on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic the past two years. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

If you go

What: Free prom dress distribution event, open to people in all communities.

When: Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 5

Where: St. John's Christian Church, 346 Shennecossett Road, Groton

People who want more information or can't make the event during those hours, can contact Files on Facebook (her screen name is Domovijas Files) or by text at (860) 938-0554.

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