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Tuesday, 14 March 2017 08:00

Brooks Gowns for Grad project gaining steam in southern Alberta

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The Brooks Elks Gowns for Grad “store” is set up in donated warehouse space in Brooks thanks to Smith Group Holdings. The Brooks Elks Gowns for Grad “store” is set up in donated warehouse space in Brooks thanks to Smith Group Holdings. Photo contributed

A project that has been in the works for a Brooks service club for the past number of years has finally gotten off the ground in a big way and is looking to help teens from across southern Alberta.

The Brooks Elks Gowns for Grad project is gaining exposure having helped more than 60 teens be able to enjoy the experience of wearing fancy attire for graduation.
Members of the Brooks Elks Lodge 77, especially younger member Kelly Sanford who is the project’s chair, has wanted to start the gowns for grad project for the past few years. Everything finally came into place quickly last fall.
Thanks to donations from businesses and individuals, teens can choose a grad dress from the selection of close to 250 housed in the Brooks Elks Gowns for Grad store. They take those dresses or suits, including accessories such as shoes, ties, and jewelry away for free or a donation.
“This whole thing really came together without a plan,” says Sanford. “I just knew people were in need. Sometimes it’s a choice between paying an electricity bill or getting your daughter a grad dress.”
With the economy in a slump for such a long period of time, Sanford could see that families in the Brooks area, which has been especially hit hard due to its reliance on the oil and gas sector, were having to make difficult choices.
“With or without the economy (factor), for a lot of people it’s a struggle,” she says, about paying for costs around high-school graduation when just the cost of a dress can range anywhere from $500 to $900.
“These grads have worked hard to get to Grade 12. They should feel like a princess no matter their financial situations.”
The local store opened up in Brooks in December. Open two afternoons and one Saturday afternoon each week, those people who are graduating can stop in and see what is available. They can try on the clothes, find accessories and take them away for their use. Donations of clothing that is in style are still being accepted as well, and people can choose to donate back their dresses once they are done with them this coming grad season.
Sanford had a good start to her project thanks to a donation of 150 dresses from the Sherwood Park Elks Club which runs its own grad dress program. Then Prom Affair, based in Edmonton, came on board with an additional 80-dress donation. A drive for donations in the Brooks area resulted in additional dresses.
She sought funding to help pay for the costs of racks and stored them in her basement. The initial plan was to set up a few pop-up stores in the gymnasium of the Brooks high school, but when a fellow Elks member got wind of that, he offered up some business space. The Smith Group Holdings had warehouse space to donate to the cause for this season so a store could be set up on a semi-permanent basis this spring.
Volunteers work the store which is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. located in Bay 8 at 775 Sutherland Drive in Brooks.
Donations can be dropped off at this location also, which should remain open until at least the end of April.
If in Medicine Hat, donations of clothing items and accessories for grads are being accepted at Hi-Tech Paint and Collision Ltd. on South Railway Street.
Sanford said she could use more men’s wear donations especially.
Any money raised through donations will be re-invested in the project.
Anyone from anywhere in southern Alberta is welcome to check out the store and choose a grad dress. All Sanford requires is that the person making use of the clothing is graduating.
“When you find a good project, you just want to help everyone,” she says. “If you know you have the ability to help someone, then you just want to help.”
More information is available on the Facebook page under Brooks Elks Gowns for Grads.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor