Gulf Coast Finds Its Fairy Godmother

By Anthony Weiss

Published April 14, 2006, issue of April 14, 2006.
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Seven months after Hurricane Katrina crashed into Bay St. Louis, Miss., flooding the town and leaving houses and lives in shambles, many citizens are still short of such necessities as underwear. But on April 1, students at Bay St. Louis High School managed to show up for their prom like regular American high schoolers — decked out in tuxedos and in gowns.

The getups were courtesy of the “Cinderella Initiative.” Led by United Jewish Communities, the effort has donated 1,000 gowns and 450 tuxedos and suits to Mississippi Gulf Coast residents.

“They were dancing all over the room,” said Sue Halpern, UJC’s volunteer Gulf Coast coordinator, who first came up with the idea. “It’s a wonderful thing to put some happiness in their lives.”

Halpern, a Gulf Coast native, said that the idea for prom clothes came after seeing how many residents relied on donations for such basic necessities as food, clothing and linens. “If they needed regular clothes, they sure needed prom clothes.”

Many of the residents are dependent on donations for food and clothing. UJC and local federations have raised an estimated $28 million in money and “in-kind” donations for Katrina relief for Jewish and non-Jewish residents.

Barry Swartz, a UJC senior vice president, said that when the call for prom clothing went out, word spread rapidly and donations poured in. “I think it captured people’s imaginations,” he said.

And so, with the formal wear from UJC, and with money and props donated by the Junior Bay High School of Foxville, Ala., the students of Bay St. Louis High School mounted a “Paris Promenade” prom.

“It was a gorgeous prom,” Rachel Nainer, a student at Bay St. Louis High, told the Forward. “The best ever.”

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