It's getting pretty pricey to go to prom these days.
According to a survey done by VISA, the average prom night costs about $1,100 per student. But some teens can't attend the big night because of the costs.
"Oh my gosh. Prom dresses are so expensive. Prom dresses are anywhere from like $75 and up. And in our economy, parents are struggling enough as it is. They're working two jobs sometimes. To be able to tell their daughter, 'I'm sorry we can't go to prom,' is just heartbreaking," volunteer Karen Rieck said.
That's why Operation Prom Dress was started at the Lincoln Hills Bible Church in Sioux Falls. For eight years now, the women who put on the event give young girls a free prom dress for their special night. And that's not all.
"Not only do we do dresses, but we also have accessories, alterations on hand that day of, and we have been blessed this year by Black Hills Beauty College to have free hair and makeup and nails for every girl that comes that day for the day of their prom," event coordinator Sarah Woods said.
The first year of Operation Prom Dress helped just 7 girls. Now they serve about 150 a year. But even with the influx of girls, they still have plenty of dresses, with about 1,000 of all sizes on-hand.
"A lot of people come in and don't realize that it's as big as it is. They think, it's a free event it's going to be more of a hand out charity type thing. They don't realize that when they come in we make it seem like they are really shopping for a dress," Woods said.
"It's a pretty good feeling to know that you don't have to look around and be like, 'Oh is this person going to have that same dress?' And not have to worry about it. It's not like they're out of style. I mean, that is a pretty in-style kind of dress. It's exciting to be able to go through all the dresses and have all the options," dress recipient Makayla Dortch said.
Dortch is a Junior at Lincoln and heard about Operation Prom Dress at school and from family friends.
"It's a pretty exciting thing to know that you can go to something like this and not have to worry about, 'How much do I need to put aside for this or this. Or for this big huge prom thing?' So it's a pretty good idea to go to," Dortch said.
Some of the dresses are gently used donations from community members, while others are brand new from local dress shops.
"It is just amazing when they actually find the dress that works for them. You see them come in and first they have their heads held low. Like, 'Really, I'm here? I can't believe I'm doing this. My mom made me.' But by the end, they're picking out their dress and it's a gorgeous dress and they also get to leave with a bag full of goodies we give them and door prizes. They just feel like a queen for the day," Woods said.
"Especially with the whole price thing, you can just throw that out. And just look at all these dresses and just say, 'Ok, I want that one. You don't have to say, 'Ok, between these few, which one can I try on,'" Dortch said.
Organizers also have different stations setup for hair, nails, dress shopping and even one-on-one talks.
These private conversations are a chance for the girls to ask the ladies whatever they want.
"We have seen relationships bond. Where the person who's the personal attendant will then meet with the girl on the day of her prom. And just kind of stand back and take pictures and pray for her. And just help her get through her day. The stories that we get back on our Facebook page, the letters that come in are just wonderful," Rieck said.
The women believe this ministry is a great way to really connect with the girls on a personal level.
"We want to make it more of beauty from the inside out. We know the dress is really a big deal, but we're also here to help with anything else that they may possibly need," Woods said.
"A lot of girls struggle with their own self image. And they really struggle with how they think people view them. And so just having that one moment where they can come in and feel beautiful," Rieck said.
That is something Dortch says she's really looking forward to now, thanks to Operation Prom Dress.
"It's going to be pretty exciting. I don't really have words to explain it. It's just one of those things you just get butterflies about if you're going to," Dortch said.
Operation Prom Dress will be held at the Lincoln Hills Bible Church on March 22.
There are no income guidelines to attend.
You can find more information on how to participate and even volunteer at the Lincoln Hills Bible Church website.