More than 100 high school girls and their family members lined up at Renys Plaza April 10. Some of them got in line as early as 8 a.m., waiting for the doors of the former Waltz Pharmacy to open at 10 a.m.

They weren’t waiting to see a movie star. Instead, they came for something even better — the chance to snag a free prom dress.

Inside the building, about 500 dresses of various sizes and styles filled the racks, and an entire corner of the room was dedicated to shoes, jewelry, purses and shawls. All items were donated to the Cinderella Project of Maine, which held its annual prom dress giveaway from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Since 2006, the Cinderella Project of Maine has provided a dress for any girl who is unable to afford the expenses of her prom, which can sometimes run to upwards of $500.

Project coordinator Mandie Sawyer described prom as an event when economic divides can be obvious. The Cinderella Project of Maine aims to bridge that gap, she said.

“I think people tend to forget when they get out of school that, for a lot of girls, prom is really important,” said Sawyer. “It is a night when girls can feel beautiful, when they can feel like they’re on the same page as everybody else.”

Sawyer said when she worked at the high school in Belfast, she often encountered girls who did not attend the prom because they didn’t have a dress.

“There is obviously a need for something like this in Maine, especially in this area,” said Sawyer. The number of girls who attend the giveaway each year continues to rise.

In 2006, for example, the Cinderella Project gave away 13 of its 50 donated dresses. At this year’s event, 132 dresses left the racks — the most dresses given away to date. Sawyer attributes the program’s increasing popularity to new support — it is now a Waldo Community Action Partners initiative and has received a grant and several monetary donations. It has also heightened its marketing efforts, launching both a Web site and a Facebook page.

This year’s event, according to Sawyer, was “the best one yet.” For most of the girls, the experience was an exciting one.

Jessie Mathews, 18, of Lincolnville didn’t know what she would find among the racks when she arrived. “It’s a lot bigger than I expected it to be,” she said as she waited in line to try on several dresses.

Some girls knew exactly what they were looking for — a knee-length dress, a black dress, something vintage, something long. Others simply browsed the racks until something caught their eye. Rachel Heard, 17, of Albion left with the first dress she tried on, while Kiana Ocean, 18, of Washington spent some time deciding between a couple of dresses. Several girls, like 18-year-old Crystle Kirby, consulted with one of the seamstresses who were on hand for the day.

Parents got swept up in the excitement, too.

“I think it’s a wonderful program,” said Rhoda Gould, whose daughter, 15-year-old Makaila, emerged from a dressing room with a spaghetti-strapped sequin dress. “It makes the girls feel like Cinderella for the day.”

That, Sawyer said, is part of the Cinderella Project’s mission.

“We really want to give the girls a boost in their self-esteem and we want them to have a good prom experience,” she said. “Our hope is that if we can at least provide a dress, maybe the girls will have money to spend on some of the other expenses that go into prom.”

Sawyer said that all the project asks in return for the dresses is that the girls continue the chain of paying it forward. At check-out, each girl filled out a postcard detailing what dress she went home with and how she planned to pay it forward.

Many girls said they planned to re-donate their dresses and shoes for next year.

“I have a few other dresses at home that I’ll donate, too,” said 17-year-old Jenna Maddocks.

To learn more about the Cinderella Project, visit its Web site at or its Facebook page at