Dresses, shoes, accessories and clutches overflowed the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida from Friday to Sunday, and every single person who walked into the pop-up prom shop left with something new.
In preparation for the Pride Prom For All this Saturday, the Pride Community Center and Alachua TranQuility co-hosted a pop-up shop at 3131 NW 13th St. to give away free clothes and accessories. Each person could pick out one dress, one pair of shoes and three pieces of jewelry.
The prom will take place on Saturday from 7-10 p.m. at Bo Diddley Plaza and is free for everyone of all ages. It will feature family-friendly music, live performances, food vendors and tabling.
The idea for the pop-up shop came when 65-year-old Shelia Bannister, the pastor from the Antioch United Holiness Church in Gainesville, donated a dozen dresses and several pairs of shoes to the center after seeing a Facebook post about the upcoming prom.
“I have a food and clothing ministry at my church, and it just happened that I had gowns, formal wear, that had been donated last year,” she said. “But due to the pandemic, nobody was having prom, so I did not get a chance to give the dresses away.”
The Pride Community Center president, 41-year-old Tamára Perry-Lunardo, called herself the dot connector for the pop-up shop. She coordinated to collect the free items and advertise the event.
As soon as word started circulating about the pop-up shop, the Buy Nothing group Perry-Lunardo was part of started showing their support. She said these groups present people with the opportunity to give away possessions they do not need to someone who does.
“That little community that I'm a part of found out that we were doing this pop-up shop and so folks from that group started giving dresses, shoes, makeup, all that kind of stuff,” she said. “Pastor Shelia just brought a windfall of people being generous.”
Coach Jordan, the president of Alachua TranQuility and the office manager of the Pride Community Center, worked alongside Perry-Lunardo to put the shop together. He said many of the people who came in to get clothes were shy at first.
“They would come in and not know what to expect, and then they go in and they try on some dresses and things and then they come out with a big smile,” he said.
Jordan said his goal was to make people feel comfortable at the prom by giving them the chance to wear an outfit that expresses how they feel.
“Even more than the dress being a dress, just that expression and that feeling of confidence and just knowing that you feel and look beautiful, I think that makes a difference,” he said.
Perry-Lunardo described the prom’s dress code as whatever makes the attendees feel fabulous.
“Not everybody has something that makes them feel fabulous,” she said. “My hope is that this will provide that opportunity to anybody who needs it.”
The pop-up shop initially only offered traditional women’s wear, but traditional men’s wear will be available at the prom.
Jordan said the pop-up shop will open again at the prom with these additional clothing options. He said there will be a dressing booth and photographer alongside the array of formal wear.
“There might be people who don’t have a dress,” he said. “They don’t have anything to wear.”
People can bring additional donations to the prom to be given away there. If they cannot make it on Saturday but have items to donate, Perry-Lunardo recommends bringing them to the free store at the Civic Media Center.
Cai Husband, a Santa Fe graphic art and design sophomore, volunteered at the pop-up shop and helped come up with the idea of having a clothes station set up at the prom.
“Dresses are expensive, and if people came in and found their size and a dress that they really liked, I feel like that could really impact them,” they said. “I felt like it was rewarding just to be there and having helped out.”
Contact Joelle Wittig at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoelleWittig.