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Volunteer finds meaning in cleaning closets

(Jennifer Priest Mitchell is a freelance writer in Beaverton. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Do you recall what you wore to your high school prom? Many women cherish memories of soft pink ruffles, or perhaps of their first black dress, and all the magic that goes with prom night. Years later, though, when cleaning their closets, they may wonder just what to do with that outgrown or outdated dress.

A lot of prom dresses, bridesmaids' gowns and the like are hanging in the backs of closets with owners who wonder what to do with them. But why not pass those beauties along to an organization that will put them in the grateful hands of young women who need prom dresses? Enter Abby's Closet, and the volunteers who bring this organization together.

Jen Ingber is a board member, as well as the public relations and outreach coordinator for Abby's Closet.

'Abby's closet is actually named for Abby Egland, who went to college three years ago and was cleaning her closet with her mom before leaving home and wondering just what to do with these fancy dresses,' she said.

While they collect dresses all year, each April is the distribution gala for young women who may not otherwise be able to afford a prom dress and all the accessories to go with it.

'It is great,' Ingber said. 'Everyone who is involved gives these girls something they feel so special about … they end up being so excited about these beautiful dresses, and they look fabulous.'

Now preparing for their third year, the next distribution will take place April 14-15 at the Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland. The venue is set up with more than a thousand dresses, organized by size, category, color and style, and each girl is guided by a personal shopper who can help her make the best choice from these lovely gowns. The young women can also choose accessories, such as purses and wraps. The shoppers help with those selections as well, give the girls some free donated makeup samples and bag everything up in plastic bags from Nordstrom's.

'I handle all of the PR and marketing for the event and for the organization,' Ingber said. 'I have been on the board of directors since last year, and this is just a great group and a great cause. It is neat because it brings together young women who have a need, and these dresses that are usually just hanging in the backs of closets.

'We get lots of what I call feel-good press because it is a great story to tell, and people also learn about us by word of mouth. We are also grateful to the support of local radio stations, AM Northwest, our many donation drop-off sites, including Kuni BMW (Beaverton) and Nike, as well as Emily Andrews Portrait Design (Beaverton), which donates time and many photos.'

Ingber graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism and an emphasis on advertising, and she loves Oregon dearly.

'I am a native Oregonian and although I've traveled the world, I would never choose any other place to live,' she said. 'I was born and raised in Oregon and I am actually soon to be married to another native Oregonian. The Portland area offers the perfect combination of lifestyles, with the mountains and the beach, and with so many larger metropolitan areas being nearby, too.'

For more information on Abby's Closet, call 503-722-1524 or visit www.abbyscloset.org.