Dresses brighten up Whitmore Ace Hardware

Marney Simon
Staff writer

Walk into the Braidwood Whitmore Ace Hardware, and you’ll see all the things you’d expect to see at a small town hardware store: snowblowers for sale, paint, garden tools, gas grills, lightbulbs, and of course, a rack of prom dresses.

Sound strange? It’s become tradition for Whitmore’s. Nestled under the sign for pool chemicals, camping equipment, and coolers, you’ll find racks full of satin and sequins, and it’s all for a good cause.

Whitmore Ace Hardware’s prom dress drive is now in full swing. The annual event has taken the tragedy that struck this small town store ten years ago, and turned it into an event that remembers two local teens while giving back to other teenagers.

For the past several years, Whitmore Ace Hardware has been the driving force behind the Melissa’s Closet and Crystal’s Jewelry Box event. Organizers have been able to make prom dreams come true for hundreds of high school students, all to honor two former Reed-Custer High School students.

Melissa Michalowski and Crystal Carr were both seniors at RCHS when they were killed in a car accident in December 2008.

Melissa had worked at Whitmore Ace Hardware in Braidwood, where she was known to be a bright and shining employee who came to work happy every day.

The staff at Whitmore Ace Hardware felt the urge to do something in Melissa’s memory. After discussing the high cost of prom with other teen employees, the workers decided to create the Melissa’s Closet and Crystal’s Jewelry Box event.

The first year, organizers were excited to have 120 dresses, in a small event held at RCHS.

The event continued to grow, collecting more dresses and accessories, and moving to larger venues.

Now, the event has become a once-a-year day of dress up and dreams come true, dressing more 1,250 girls for prom, all for just $5 a dress.

More than 100 volunteers help out at the annual event, which now takes place at Godley Park District each March. In 2015, a scholarship fund was also established.

As this year’s event approaches, organizers are again seeking dress donations. Long and short formal gowns, preferably from 2015 to new, as well as accessories, jewelry, purses and shoes, are needed. Dresses should be clean, on hangers, and in excellent condition.

Local drop off locations include:

• Whitmore Ace Hardware at 1105 S. Water St., Wilmington, and 237 N. Front St., Braidwood;
• Quality Auto Body, 97 N. 1st Ave., Coal City;
• Fossil Ridge Public Library, 386 W. Kennedy Rd., Braidwood;
• The Free Press Newspapers, 111 S. Water St., Wilmington, and 271 S. Broadway, Coal City;
• Our Caring Closet, 205 First St., Wilmington
• Coal City Public Library, 85 N. Garfield St., Coal City;
• Godley Park District, 500 S. Kankakee St., Godley; and
• All participating churches.

The dress sale will be Saturday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Godley Park District, 500 S. Kankakee St. All dresses will be $5 the day of the sale.

For more information visit www.melissascloset.org.