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Area teens find free prom outfits: Bella Project dress give-away continues today at Kandi Mall

Ariana Hofland, left, of Willmar, gets some dress adjustment help from her friend, Sydney Huntley, of Willmar, Friday after she found a prom dress at Bella Project’s Kandi Mall location. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — Shanna Hofland thought she had another year before she had to worry about prom dresses, but her sophomore daughter Ariana was invited to the Willmar prom this year.

A mom who’s also a nursing student, Hofland heard about The Bella Project and told Ariana it would be their first stop before looking elsewhere.

Ariana said she hadn’t expected to leave with a dress, but she liked several of them and did take one home. Best of all, it was free.

“It makes life a lot easier,” Hofland said.

The Bella Project is in its third year of helping area teens find dresses for the prom. The program accepts donations of gently used, in-style prom dresses and let teens shop in a vacant storefront in the Kandi Mall.

Dressing rooms are set up and laughing and squeals of delight drift out from behind the curtains. Each girl is allowed to select one dress free of charge to wear to her prom. Some have accessories attached.

This year, the Ali J Boutique of New London donated 27 pairs of shoes, too. This year, the program received more than 160 donated prom dresses in all sizes.

The shop opened at 4 p.m. Friday, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. The shop is across from Andrea’s Boutique and next door to the Regis hair salon in the mall. The program is open to any high school girl in the area, regardless of income.

It didn’t take long Friday afternoon for the shop to fill with girls, most accompanied by a mom or a couple friends. A few men braved the scene but only a few.

Girls could sign up for door prizes and collect coupons from the sign-in table. Claire’s, an accessories shop in the mall, sent employees dressed in their own prom dresses to the Bella shop to pass out coupons.

Yolanda Marble and Becca Boedigheimer, both seniors at Willmar, were browsing through the dresses. Both of them went to the prom in Bella dresses a year ago. Marble was looking again this year, preferably something in blue.

“It’s kinda nice,” she said. “You don’t have to stress out about it, and your parents don’t have to stress out.”

The program started at Willmar Senior High three years ago and moved to the mall last year. Desiree Weinandt, the mall’s marketing director, is on the project committee and was helping at the shop on Friday along with organizers Sheila Johannes, Sharon Tollefson, Jodi Neis and Deb Kleven.

Kleven said the committee has been grateful to the mall and the businesses that donated or assisted with the program.

The program started with the idea of making prom more affordable for girls and their families, but it’s not just for low-income students. Now, it’s really for anybody who’s interested,” she said.

People who donate a dress to the program also seem to enjoy knowing that it’s going for a good cause and will be used again, she said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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