By JOHN GORALSKI
The winter snows have yet to fully disappear. Skiers are still plummeting down Mount Southington’s face, and buds haven’t even begun to appear on Southington’s trees. For most of us, it’s way too early to think about the spring prom season.
For high school juniors and seniors, it is already well underway.
On Saturday, March 5, Kristen’s Kloset will open its doors for business, and hundreds of local teens will find a little relief from the prom’s rising costs. The volunteer-run business pops up each year with a wide assortment of new and gently used prom gowns, shoes, jewelry, and accessories to help defray the costs for those who need it.
Over the last two years, Kristen’s Kloset has helped over 400 girls in the region enjoy the rite of passage.
“In the beginning, we thought that we were just going to service Southington kids,” said Southington Youth Services Director Susan Saucier, who oversees the annual project, “but we ended up getting so many donations that dresses would probably go out of style before we were able to find people who needed them.”
As the organization began to get more publicity, they started getting an influx of donations from other towns. The donations have helped the organization expand its services to local youth.
Established to honor the memory of Kristen Warner, a 13-year-old honor student and gymnast, after her untimely death in a car accident on Queen Street in 2004, Kristen’s Kloset has become an important part of the prom season.
This year marks 10 years since the store first opened for business. For a $25 donation, girls can purchase gowns. In addition, Youth Services has distributed vouchers to social workers and guidance councilors throughout the state.
Over the past decade, the focus has expanded. In addition to supplying gowns, the influx of donations has enabled Kristen’s Kloset to assist with the purchase of prom tickets for those in need. Donations have also allowed the organization to help with tuxedo rentals for Southington boys.
Although the store is open to girls across the state, these additional services have been focused on local teens.
“I’m not sure if everyone realizes this, but tickets are $85 or $90 per person. We can give a girl a dress, jewelry, and shoes, but how is she going to pay $90 for a ticket?” said Saucier. “This has become a community project.”
More than 15 volunteers showed up for the kick-off meeting, but support comes from all corners of the community.
Kristen’s Kloset partners with Modern Formals in Southington to provide reduced prices on tuxedo rentals for those who need it. For a number of years, the Aqua Turf lent draping and poles for use in the store’s dressing rooms until the Calvanese Foundation made a permanent donation of store supplies. The American Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary continues to be a large supporter, and many other local organizations have pitched in.
Even the space is donated. During the off-season, dresses and equipment are stored in the attic of the Southington Water Department. Each year a different store space is donated by a different commercial building owner.
“People in town have been so generous in donating space,” said Saucier. “We went through the real estate broker this year, and I think they want to be anonymous. The broker told us that the owner was happy to do this for us. People have been so wonderful about it.”
This year, Kristen’s Kloset will be located at Plaza West at 772 West Street.
Beginning on March 5, store hours will be Tuesdays, 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Thursdays, 2:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., through April
Saucier said that many are surprised at the quality of gowns at the store.
“We ask girls to post pictures, and some do,” said Saucier. “We have some girls that come back for their senior prom and swap the one that they got for their junior prom. Then, we see some parents return because they got a dress for another kid in the family. It’s wonderful.”
For more information and photos, search “Kristen’s Kloset” on Facebook or visit Southington Youth Services at www.Southington.org.