Pajaro's Casa de Cultura turned into a boutique on Saturday, brimming with gorgeous, good-as-new gowns and dresses in all shapes, colors and sizes.
Here is where it becomes any woman's dream: they were all free.
Throughout the day, over 200 girls came through to pour over the racks, while volunteers helped them find the perfect one. There were even three seamstresses on scene to tailor each dress to its new owner.
"We've had over 225 girls come so far, and most of them went home with two or three dresses," said Cheryl Glover, a volunteer.
Girls were able to get a dress for prom, and many took home a dress for graduation night and their graduation dinner as well.
When a brand new prom dress can cost several hundred dollars, it's easy to see why the High School milestone tradition may be completely out of reach for many.
"Right now the economy is still recovering, families are still cutting expenses, and telling their prom goers, 'you can go to prom, but you're on your own,'" said Santa Cruz City Council Member Tony Madrigal, who helped the recycled prom dress event on Saturday.
"Prom is a very American tradition that all students should be able to participate in," he said.
Madrigal also told Patch that he had heard girls come in saying "I'm just waiting for him to ask me [to prom]'.
"But now that they had the dress, they were going to ask him," smiled Madrigal.
The dress donations help students overcome the hurdle of getting a dress, something Madrigal says helps to "nudge some students out of their shell a little and go to prom."
But the girls who showed up this weekend and last weekend in Santa Cruz are not only getting a little help with their dresses— a local photographer is pitching in for the photo shoot too. And not just for a few. For them all.
Santa Cruz-based photographer Helbard Alkhassadeh of Mockingbird Photography estimates that he handed out almost $10,000 dollars worth of photo shoot vouchers (one for each girl) between this weekend and last weekend. Each voucher is good for a photo shoot on prom night or any time she chooses. She also gets the digital file.
Alkhassadeh says he found out about the event when somebody hung a flier in his studio on Mission Street.
"Even though we've been in business for almost 6 years, I wanted to get our studio more involved with local non-profits and community oriented events," said Alkhassadeh.
Alkhassadeh gained his purpose to help people in need while working for the county, before he became a professional photographer. His job entailed helping people on government assistance enter the workforce.
"The most difficult part of the job was seeing teenagers try to live a normal life while life at home was anything but normal. It never ceased to surprise me how much our local residents have to struggle with poverty and making ends meet. For a teenager, that struggle can be emotionally and psychologically devastating. Once I decided to pursue my goal as a commercial photographer, I knew those issues in our community were still there," said Alkhassadeh.
Luckily, he isn't the only one working to ease the struggle of financial hardship in the community.
"The main reason that we like to host this is because the great majority of young women who come, their parents are farm workers who aren't able to afford beautiful dresses like these," said Sister Rosa Dolores, the director at the Casa de Cultura.
The Casa de Cultura acts as a resource center for the Watsonville and Pajaro communities, offering services like educational classes for women, literacy classes, nutrition, sewing, and computer classes during the winter time (or off-season) for migrant field workers. They also run a free clinic on Tuesday nights and give music classes, healing touch and aromatherapy and acupuncture.
Mockingbird Photography will be hosting a modeling workshop at no charge, on Saturday, May 19th at 2 p.m.The workshop also discusses online safety and how to manage your image on the web, as well 'everything you need to know' about getting into modeling.