CRANBERRY TWP — Hundreds of young women from around the region were lined up before daybreak Saturday at the Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church with hopes of finding their dream dress.
The church's annual “I Found the Gown” event, where attendees can purchase lightly-used prom dresses and wedding gowns offered a selection of 2,040 dresses, as well as shoes, wraps and jewelry.
Greta Bender, a North Catholic High School senior, was one of the first through the door Saturday. She said one of the best parts of the day was getting to go on an adventure with her best friend and fellow North Catholic senior, Emily Gregor. The two showed up at 4 a.m. to get their tickets for the sale and were 69th and 70th to be allowed in.
“I love getting this experience with my best friend,” Emily said.
Emily added that the event offers affordable prom dresses rather than having high school girls spend, “$500 for a dress (we'll) wear once.”
Both Greta and Emily said they were looking for more form-fitting, sleeker gowns and hadn't found anything almost an hour into the event's beginning.
“We're still shopping around,” Greta said. “We have a lot to try on still.”
Both said they were happy for the sale.
“If it weren't this structured, it'd be a wreck,” Greta said. “It's really amazing what they do.”
About 100 volunteers, including 40 students from Seneca Valley High School's National Honor Society, help with that structure by either acting as “runners” to put rejected dresses back on the racks, helping girls and women get into their dresses or acting as seamstresses to add zippers, hem skirts, fix straps and more.
This is the church's 10th year hosting this event. Organizer Nancy Hodges said that has given them plenty of time and practice to make sure the sale runs smoothly.
When the event began in 2009, the church collected fewer than 100 dresses, selling 42.
A decade later, those attending the event Saturday could use one of 57 dressing rooms and six seamstresses, with 25 girls permitted in the Fellowship Hall to search for gowns at a time. They are dismissed in groups with about 20 minutes to search before more groups are called.
“It moves very quickly,” Hodges said.
Many of those in attendance weren't from Butler County but had traveled from Beaver and Allegheny counties, as well as West Virginia and Ohio. Western Beaver High School Sophomore Justine Snowden, 15, said she woke up at 3:15 a.m. to get to the sale by 4:30 a.m.
Similarly, North Allegheny junior Hannah Bondi and Ambridge students Hannah Minitte, senior, and Mackenzie Isles, junior, said they also arrived hours before the sun came up.
Hodges said the event is usually entirely cleaned up with the leftover dresses ready to be donated by about 4 p.m.
Items sold were donated by church members, area businesses and others.
In addition to the discounted rates for apparel, the church also offers a few “Fairy Godmother” coupons to pay for dresses for girls who might not be able to afford the items they really want. It is funded through donations from church members.
“We've got enough that we can help a lot of people,” said Gretchen Peterson, another event organizer.
CCUPC also donates more than half of the dresses leftover from the event, keeping about 300 to get them started for the next year.