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Prom project helps teens

BRADENTON — As prom season approaches, the Manatee Education Foundation and the Suncoast for Kids Foundation are teaming up to provide free dresses and tuxedos to students who need financial assistance with formal wear.

This is the second year the two agencies have helped local high school teens with its “Prince Charming and Cinderella Project.”

Last year, 85 students attended their proms thanks to the project, said Tricia McKay May, the MEF coordinator of development.

They included about 35 students from Palmetto High and 25 from Bayshore High.

“The smiles on their faces and their parents’ faces is very heartwarming,” McKay May said of the formal wear recipients.

To qualify for the program, students must be juniors or seniors in high school and they must be eligible for the school district’s free or reduced lunch program.

Students interested in the program can contact guidance counselors at their respective high schools.

“It’s so hard right now, parents are out of jobs, over 40 percent of kids in Manatee are on free and reduced lunch, so certainly paying for a rent or tux could seem superfluous to some parents,” McKay May said. “They’re thinking more about getting food on the table and paying their rent.”

Local community organizations and business owners contribute dresses, tuxedoes, gift cards and other forms of support.

Elaine’s Bridal Boutique on University Parkway and the Junior League of Manatee County have already donated dresses.

Something Blue Bridal Boutique in Bradenton is also offering a 10 percent discount on a new dress if customers bring in a dress to donate to the project.

“I believe every young woman and man should be able to go to prom,” said Something Blue’s owner Kristie Dole. “They are memories they take with them the rest of their life.”