She was sore, tired and about to give in to exhaustion when Kim Vescova stumbled into a conversation with a Schoharie High School teacher.
She had spent most of that Monday moving just over 300 donated dresses into the school for girls who would never have been able to afford the upcoming prom while their families recovered from last August’s flood.
The teacher began describing to her what happened in the hallways earlier in the day.
“They made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the prom dresses came in and that they were available for kids who needed them,” she recalled. “And he said, ‘You should have heard the eruption of clapping and cheering.’ He said it shook the building, and it shook the halls afterward and everyone had a smile on their face.”
The fact is, she said, Schoharie High School wasn’t even going to book the prom this year. Nobody had plans to go.
The students wanted to, of course. Junior and senior prom is the hallmark of any lasting high school memory — the girls in their best gowns, the boys in sharp tuxes, a first dance with a long-held crush, a year-end bonding moment for a community’s youth.
But in the Schoharie Valley, where parents are scrounging money together to rebuild a house or a business, buy groceries and pay their heating bill, kids just couldn’t bear to ask their parents to foot the bill for a night at the prom.
“Logically speaking, we’re talking $200 or $300 for a dress, a $75 ticket, then your hair and everything else,” said Vescova, program manager for New York Disaster Relief. “It’s a $500 day no matter how you fight it. How do you ask your parents for $500 when you’re living in a construction zone?”
So Vescova started Project Cinderella. She reached out to organizations and individuals in the community and beyond to send in their used prom dresses and tuxes, shoes and bags. With about 150 students in the junior and senior class combined, she is now reeling with shock at the more than 300 dresses that have come in.
Ellis Medicine was one of the organizations that responded in plenty. An office and storage space on the third-floor nursing unit at Ellis Hospital shone with colorful sequins, silks and taffeta Wednesday and that only held about 10 dresses.
Overall, the nursing staff at the Schenectady hospital has collected about 150 dresses, tuxedos, men’s suits and dress jackets, as well as shoes, costume jewelry and other accessories.
The nurses at Ellis don’t just take care of their patients, said Mary Cavoli-Kingsley, a nurse who’s been with the hospital for 38 years.
“We take care of our neighbors, our communities that we serve,” she said. “We love to be involved with things that are helping others, because we’re nurses. We like to help people. We care for people. So this started as something simple.”
Cavoli-Kingsley started the collection drive at the hospital with the help of nurse Nina Cheung. They reached out to employees from all three campuses — Ellis Hospital, the Bellevue Woman’s Center and Ellis Health Center — to pitch in their party finery.
Nurses, physicians, dieticians, secretaries, medical technicians and others contributed.
“You can see we were overwhelmed with the response,” she said. “Some of these dresses are just gorgeous. I could get married again in that ivory one. It is such a pretty dress.”
The dresses hardly seemed secondhand. From only the 10 or so on display Wednesday, there were blue and emerald green long dresses, a shiny silver and gray strapless with sequins dovetailing at the bust, a pink gown with a sheer purple taffeta overlay. The dress Cavoli-Kingsley adored was ivory, with a pale pink sash and bow and silver sequins.
A display of all the donated dresses and tuxes will soon be available online at www.projectcinderella.net, said Vescova. Schoharie students can peruse the site and then try on the outfits Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. at the high school.
“When we got the dresses in, my jaw just dropped,” she said. “Some of these dresses are $700, $800, $900 dresses. Dresses that truthfully, these kids wouldn’t have been able to afford before.”
It was easy for Cavoli-Kingsley to understand the pain of loss from flooding. One of her relatives lives in Schoharie and was affected by Tropical Storm Irene.
“From what I understand,” she said, “when you lose everything and you have nothing, you want to do things that you might not financially be able to afford. And this is just something that we thought every girl in the school, every young man in school, should have the opportunity to attend their prom if they would like to.”
Tera Criscione didn’t know anyone affected by the flood. The 29-year-old Ellis dietitian is still young enough, though, to remember how special the night of prom is for a young girl. She collected 30 dresses from friends and family in Colonie.
“It makes me feel great that I could offer something to them to give them this memory,” she said. “They’ve lost pictures. They’ve lost everything. So all they have is memories. They deserve to have this memory as well. It’s a huge deal.”
With prom coming up on May 18, Vescova is now worried about the boys. Dresses poured in quickly and in abundance, she said. But there are hardly any tuxes or suits for the guys, and they have been just as, if not more, enthusiastic about attending their prom as the girls.
As of Wednesday, the count was one tuxedo and a half dozen suits. So she negotiated with a local tuxedo company that agreed to chip in and help cover the cost of some rentals. And some nurses at Ellis agreed to sponsor the cost of prom night for some of the boys.
“When we brought the dresses over on Monday, there were two boys to every one girl volunteering, which was impressive to me because you wouldn’t think guys would care. But they were fluffing out the skirts. It was so cute.”
One student approached Vescova, tapping her on the shoulder. He asked if there was going to be any help with the tuxes.
“I really want to come, but I just can’t ask my parents,” he said.
She hopes that enough tuxes and suits come in for the boys, and that extra donations also help cover the total cost of prom so that the school can discount the tickets down to nothing for students.
“If we can pull that off, it truly is a Cinderella story,” she said. “And these kids deserve it. They’ve been troopers, helping their families and their neighbors. With everything they’ve gone through, this just has to happen.”
Anyone interested in donating to the Schoharie prom or sponsoring the event for a student should visit www.projectcinderella.net or contact Kim Vescova at 657-1114.