Helping Others

Free formal wear helps students afford to attend their proms

Jennifer Olivares, 14, and her two sisters shift through racks of formal dresses at Fair Oaks Library on Saturday afternoon at the library’s annual prom wear giveaway. Three more giveaways are scheduled at Sacramento Public Library branches this month.
Jennifer Olivares, 14, and her two sisters shift through racks of formal dresses at Fair Oaks Library on Saturday afternoon at the library’s annual prom wear giveaway. Three more giveaways are scheduled at Sacramento Public Library branches this month. blyles@sacbee.com

Dozens of teenagers sifted through racks of color-coordinated dresses, shirts and suits Saturday afternoon at Fair Oaks Library’s prom wear giveaway.

The giveaway, hosted by the greater Sacramento Public Library system, was one of nine events aimed at enabling local teens to attend their high school prom by providing free formal wear. Three more giveaways are scheduled at Sacramento Public Library branches through the remainder of March.

The event began back in 2013 at the North Highlands-Antelope Library as a service project suggested by the library’s teen advisory board – a group of high school students who regularly meet and discuss the needs of local teens. After realizing that many of their peers were unable to attend their proms because of cost, the group decided to collect donations of lightly worn formal attire, then redistribute it to their peers for free.

“When you factor in all the expenses it takes to go to prom, it’s so expensive,” said Justin Azevedo, Sacramento Public Library branch supervisor and event founder. “We found that whether (students) went (to prom) at all really hinged on them getting a dress or a tux for that day.”

Azevedo cited a study conducted by credit card company Visa Inc. that found that American families living in Western states, including California, spent an average of $596 on a prom last year. The total includes cost of tickets, limousine rental, flowers, photographs and attire.

After the first event at the North Highlands-Antelope branch proved popular, organizers decided to expand systemwide to cater to more students, according to Amanda Sambrano-Ensele, Youth Services librarian.

“As the program grew, we discovered that it didn’t really matter where a student came from or what an area’s demographic was,” Azevedo said. “High school students from all over just can’t shell out hundreds of dollars for a dress they only wear once.”

May Guan, an 18-year-old senior at Laguna Creek High School, said that she did not attend her school’s prom last year because it was “just too expensive.”

“Prom’s an important day for me and for a lot of high-schoolers,” Guan said. “I think it’s great that I can come here and get a dress for free. Now, I can go to prom this year.”

For middle school student Jennifer Olivares, 14, who attended the giveaway Saturday with her mother, Barbara Rodriguez, the event is an opportunity to obtain high-quality, fashionable formal attire for school dances and other special occasions. Olivares and her mother attended the library’s giveaway events last year, as well.

Rodriguez, 37, said that, living in a single-income family, it’s often difficult to justify purchasing new formal attire for her three daughters. If it weren’t for events like this, Olivares said, “I would be getting something much cheaper.”

Upcoming prom wear giveaway events

  • Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at Valley Hi-North Laguna Library, 7400 Imagination Parkway, Sacramento
  • Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. at Arcade Library, 2443 Marconi Ave., Sacramento
  • Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at McKinley Library, 601 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento
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