PARK HILLS – It was obvious by her sad eyes she didn’t want to be there.
“The young lady had cystic fibrosis and had to have a small oxygen tank with her,” said Sandy Hovis, member of Esther Baptist Church here. “My friend Connie was attending her and I kept running back and forth with different dresses for her to try on.”
Then Hovis saw someone bring in a stunning floor-length gown that had been donated moments before.
“It was beautiful and even had a little purse that went with it, so I snatched it up before it even hit the rack,” she said. “The young lady put it on and oh my, if you had seen the look on that girl’s face… she was so happy—the dress was made for her. It makes you realize what an impact something like this can have on these girls. The love of Christ can be found in a free gown.”
Esther Baptist Church gave away 43 dresses during its annual Prom Dress Giveaway, March 3. More than 300 dresses in a variety of sizes, colors and styles were available to choose from; the most they’ve had available and the most they’ve given away in its 8-year history. Ernestine Elders started the event in 2010 with the volunteer support of her church’s women’s group, WinGS (Women in God’s Service), and many others in the church that continue to keep everything running smoothly. They transform the basement into a boutique and the Sunday school classrooms into dressing rooms.
“We have 12-15 volunteers the day of our giveaway and we do a lot of praying before the young ladies get here and while our personal shoppers help them with the selection process,” Elders said. “We pray that the Holy Spirit would be in this place.”
Elders never got to go to prom. Her mother was a widow, money was always tight, and she simply never entertained the idea of going.
“It just wasn’t an option for me. But some time later after I had grown up a bit I wondered if I could have gone to prom, would I have?” she said. “Why should these girls not get the chance?”
Though Elders never got to go to her own prom, because of this ministry she has seen the dream of prom become a reality for hundreds of girls. She once witnessed a young lady in foster care step out of the dressing room like a real princess, her beauty so striking she took everyone’s breath away. The young lady said she had never had so many people admire her. Another time Elders stood nearby while a young lady with a mental disability stepped out in front of the large angled mirrors and said with surprise in her voice, “I am beautiful.”
“As you can imagine, we were all in tears,” Elders said. “Maybe she had never seen herself like that before. Knowing you’re beautiful is a big deal for girls.”
Not only do most of the girls who come to the Prom Dress Giveaway take a new gown home, they also take home information about sexual purity, their worth in God’s eyes, and the opportunities available to learn more about God and His Son, Jesus, at Esther Baptist.
“We try to make it as much of a ministry as we can, but without being too pushy so as not to run anyone off,” Elders said. “We want them to be comfortable with the process and have a pleasant experience with their friends and family who come with them. We initially worried having it in the basement of the church would keep them away, but it hasn’t. People come.”
While this year’s Giveaway is over, Elders said they store their dress inventory until next year and are always ready to receive additional donations any time. While the Lord has certainly blessed their ministry year after year, Elders said they have also learned many things along the way.
“If you consider doing a ministry like this we’d love to help you so you can learn from the hoops we’ve been through,” she said.
For more information contact Esther Baptist Church at 573-431-1265.