WALLA WALLA -- As girls have come in and out of Tabitha's Closet, they have almost all been inevitably drawn to the same green dress.
That's a short, snug, sleeveless light green dress that is covered entirely in sparkling sequins.
Kim Morasch, one of the founders of Tabitha's Closet, pulls the dress from the rack that holds dozens of dresses, to more clearly show its appeal.
"That green one is cute, but it's got to be on the right girl," points out Anne Van Kley, who together with Morasch launched Tabitha's Closet this fall to serve local teens in need of affordable formal wear.
Yet Tabitha's Closet is doing more than making gowns affordable. They are lending the gowns -- or for young men, slacks -- free of charge as long as the teens try to cover the cost of dry cleaning on return.
Highly organized and motivated, Morasch and Van Kley started working together earlier in the year when they realized some teens might miss their school's dances for lack of something to wear.
"We found there was a need," Morasch said.
Van Kley, the youth ministry director at Christ Lutheran Church, starting chasing the idea after she helped a teen go to a prom simply by helping her find a dress. Van Kley had learned the girl was skipping prom because she couldn't afford a new dress. With a little networking within the church, Van Kley got about 15 dresses donated, and the teen found one that worked.
"It was amazing," Van Kley said. "It was a really cool thing."
The experience sparked something in Van Kley, and she soon found herself working with Morasch, a church member and mom who helped gather some dresses from her college-age daughter.
Together, the women launched Tabitha's Closet, naming the venture after a woman described in the Bible as a charitable seamstress.
Tabitha's Closet opened in a room at Christ Lutheran Church last week, with the goal of reaching teens heading to the Walla Walla High School homecoming dance this weekend. The timing also coincides with dances at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater, DeSales Catholic High School and Walla Walla Valley Academy.
The room itself is more like a boutique than the classroom for Sunday school it once served as. There is a floral couch, taken from Van Kley's youth ministry room, that was used to set the color scheme. A young volunteer painted the walls in two shades of blue. An old Christmas prop is now a partition that works to form a dressing area within the room. There is also an accessories table with jewelry, and a closet devoted just to shoes.
And there is a rack heaving with the close to 50 dresses that have been donated to date, in sizes ranging from petite to plus.
"And everything in between," Morasch added.
There's also short dresses and long ones. Some in loud colors and playful fabrics, others in simple colors and more classic styles.
The goal is to continue accepting donations, so that there is a large selection as prom rolls around in the spring.
"We still could use more," Morasch said, suggesting another rack would soon be needed.
"If we had to start another room, that would be OK," Van Kley said.
Morasch and Van Kley ask that donated dresses be modern, clean and gently worn. There is also a need for more men's black slacks.
Teens can then check out the outfits, along with shoes and accessories, free of charge. Morasch said they are just asking that items be returned within a week, and dry-cleaned if it is within the teens' budgets. The dresses, pants and other items are available to any teen regardless of income.
Although the word is still getting out on Tabitha's Closet, several girls have already stopped by, the coordinators said, and a few took home a dress they liked. And for Van Kley and Morasch, the real heart of the outreach is helping teens enjoy a memorable night.
"It's more than a dress," Van Kley said. "It's really giving them an experience."
Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8317. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/schoolhousemissives.
About Tabitha's Closet
Teens have a chance to borrow free formal wear for upcoming special events through Tabitha's Closet. It is located at Christ Lutheran Church, 1420 S. Second Ave.
It will be open Thursday from 3-8 p.m., and again Friday from 3-5 p.m. to serve teens who may be attending the Walla Walla High School homecoming dance this weekend. Tabitha's Closet opens again Oct. 4-9 from 3-8 p.m. for the DeSales homecoming. The free service is available to teens regardless of income.
To book an appointment or for more information, call 525-2243 and ask for Anne Van Kley or Kim Morasch. Donations of clean, modern, gently-warn dresses and men's black slacks are still being accepted, as is jewelry, shoes or cash donations.