On the morning of February 25, Allanah Benthien posted on Facebook, saying she would like to donate her old graduation dress to a young girl in need. Twenty-four hours later, the Sparwood resident was running a full nonprofit dedicated to connecting donated graduation dresses with girls in the Valley.
“It started with me just trying to donate my dress on its own and I got so many random messages from people saying it was such a kind thing to do and how they wished there were more people out there willing to do things like that and I thought to myself, I bet you there is,” Benthien explained.
The morning after her original Facebook post, Benthien started the Cinderella Closet in the Valley Facebook page, with promises of over 40 donated dresses from women throughout the entire Elk Valley. Although everything has unfolded very quickly with her new initiative, Benthien does have a tentative plan for how the borrowing closet will work.
Benthien will take in the donated dresses and store them in her home. She’ll post photos of the dresses on the Facebook page, with sizes and a small style description. Girls can then go through the dresses until they find one that they love. After that, Benthien encourages the graduating girls to give her a call and she’ll bring their top dress choices to them.
“The girls can pick through which dresses they would like to try and I will come to them and try and make it as personal an experience as possible because I understand that some may be embarrassed that they can’t afford their dresses and I don’t want to make it public for them,” Benthien explained. She also added that nobody should feel embarrassed or scared to contact her about getting a dress. Benthien knows the feeling of not being able to afford a graduation dress only too well.
“I was one of those girls who couldn’t afford a prom dress on the big day,” she recalled. “Not everyone has hundreds of dollars to spend for just one evening so it was the generosity of a woman at the thrift store in the town I was living in at the time that cut the price basically right in half. She sold me my dress for real cheap and I just know that I never forgot that.”
Since launching the closet, Benthien said that she’s had hair and makeup artists and photographers reach out to her, asking to keep their names on file for when graduation season rolls around in a couple of months. With the help of these additional volunteers, Benthien might be able to help girls have the entire graduation package, at a very reduced cost.
The current plan is that girls will rent the dresses from Benthien and the Cinderella Closet for free. The only condition is that they have them dry cleaned and returned to the closet so that another girl in the future might have her joyful moment in the sun with the dress.
“I’m hoping in the future that I can turn it into something bigger but for now I’m just taking it step by step,” Benthien said. “I’m hoping that the general kindness keeps up. It’s already spreading like wildfire.”
Benthien is currently working with the District of Sparwood to work out any licensing she’ll need to successfully run this nonprofit, stating on the Facebook page that she’s taking all of the steps to do things the right way on the business end of things. At the end of the day though, Benthien just wants to spread some kindness and joy in the world.
She encourages girls looking for graduation dresses to contact her via phone at 250-833-2880.
“Don’t be embarrassed to get a hold of me at all. I will never post any personal information about anybody if they don’t want it. I just want to give everybody that big special day because everybody deserves that.”