Prom Closet pairs teens with free dresses

When Dawn Lafferty started Angels Above Baby Gowns in May 2014, the goal was to make 200 infant burial gowns by the end of the year.

With the first anniversary fast approaching, her Angel Above volunteers have blown past that goal, making more than 4,000 gowns. Of that number about 3,500 have been distributed to 28 hospitals in Michigan, three out-of-state hospitals and a military base hospital in Georgia.

The gowns are made from donated wedding gowns and prom dresses.

“We tell people that if we can’t use them, we will donate the prom dresses to girls who can use them,” the Garden City resident said. “We have about 300 prom dresses we need to give away.”

With that in mind, Lafferty is teaming up with the Rainbow Girls of Wayne Assembly 72 to hold a Prom Dress Closet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 11, at the Wayne Masonic Temple 112, 37137 Palmer, Westland.

Photo: black bridesmaids dresses

The gently used dresses will be available free of charge, although a donation of $10 is being asked to cover the cost of cleaning them. The donations will go directly back to AABG to defray the costs of creating the angel gowns made for families experiencing infant loss.

Lafferty’s secretary, Karen Pangborn’s father is a Mason, and the Rainbow Girls picked the AABG as their charity. They’ve made ornaments and toured the studio in the basement of her home. The 15 Rainbow Girls will be returning to do the entire process of making a baby gown.

“They also gave us a donation,” Lafferty said. “They’re trying to be state champions and if they win, they’ll get a bigger donation for our group.”

“The prom dresses are for anybody; there’s no income guideline,” she said. “We also will be accepting wedding gowns at the event as well.”

Basement studio

Lafferty has transformed her basement of her home into a studio. Volunteers meet from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Thursday for “lunch and dessert, sewing and friendship.”

The volunteers work in groups of four dismantling a wedding gown. The skirts are separated from the bodice and the lace and beads removed. The material from the prom dresses are used to make vests for the boys’ gowns.

Lafferty has one room set up with sewing machines and sergers that volunteers use to make the gowns. There are drawers filled with finished gowns in all sizes ready to be delivered to hospitals and a room where beading is organized for making the ornaments. In the laundry room, a larger portable closet holds close to 100 bags containing bridal skirts that need to be washed.

“We use lots of white threads, rolls of ribbon and trims to embellish the gowns,” Lafferty said. “And we go through a lot of seam rippers taking the dresses apart.”

A day doesn’t go by that Lafferty doesn’t receive a gown in the mail, and she can get as many as six calls a day about donations. The group will be accepting donations of wedding gowns at the Prom Dress Closet. It also will be doing a fundraiser. AABG has more than 60 brand new bridal gowns and an assortment of slips and veils that it will be selling.

“A man called from Maryland; he was cleaning out a store in a strip mall and found them. He said we could have them, if we came and got them,” Lafferty said. “These aren’t donated gowns, they’re new. They still have the tags on them. Some were priced as much as $4,000.”

The gowns come in different sizes and are being sold for $100 each. The money will go to support AABG, she said.

Working with TEARS

AABG also is working on with Michigan Chapter of the TEARS Foundation, which pays for current infant and unexpected child funeral expenses and assists with costs related to the cremation or burial of an infant or child up to age 12.

The chapter, headed up by Buddy and Shelby Shuh of Wayne, is holding a kick-off event on April 21 at the Westland City Hall for the 2015 Michigan Rock and Walk, and Lafferty hopes to be there. Rock and Walk, planned for Sept. 12 at Plymouth Christian Academy, raises money for families in need of funeral assistance, emotional support and other programs.

And AABG is growing with the start-up of Angels Above Baby Gowns-Houghton Lake. That group will help take care of the needs at hospitals in northern Michigan, Lafferty said.

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