Windsor

Cinderella Project helps Sarnia girls get to prom

A conversation in a Sarnia grocery store led to a prom dress project that helped hundreds.

'If one girl needs help, there's 20 more that need the support'

Debbie Anderson says before she stepped away from Cinderella Project, they helped about 625 girls. (Brianne Bowen/The Associated Press)

A conversation in a Sarnia grocery store led to a prom dress project that helped hundreds.

Debbie Anderson was chatting with an acquaintance who mentioned the year ahead was going to be expensive for their teenage daughter — with prom and graduation coming fast, the family was not sure how to get everything the girl needed.

"So we did some searching and found her a dress," said Anderson. "And she went to prom and had a great time."

Helping just one turned into a desire to help so many more. 

"If one girl needs help, there's 20 more that need the support," said Anderson.

With some encouragement from her husband, Anderson approached the local credit union to see if they'd act as a drop-off location for more dresses. 

"We collected maybe 75 dresses that year," said Anderson. Cinderella Project was born — and helped 9 girls in its first year. 

Anderson said the project got bigger than she ever anticipated.

"In the end we helped more than 625 girls," said Anderson. "We had 65-plus amazing volunteers."

Local dress stores donated dresses, including one in Port Huron.

"It surprised me," said Anderson about the cross-border donation. "But [the store owner] said she liked that we didn't turn people away and she wanted to support us."

Anderson decided to step away from the project — and despite a succession plan in place, the program fell apart. 

"I didn't want to be seen as the bad guy," said Anderson, adding that it was hard to step away. 

"I second-guessed myself a lot."

Luckily, a youth assistance program called Sarnia-Lambton Rebound took Cinderella Project over, receiving 1,200 dresses, steamers, garment bags and hanging racks from Anderson and her volunteers.

"Something as simple as a prom dress can make such an impact on a girl's life," said Anderson. 

To thank her for her work on Cinderella Project, Anderson's name was added to Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley's Honour List for 2018. 

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