|Donated wedding gowns are used to make burial
outfits for babies through the Mary Madeline Project of Omaha,
Neb. (Photo by Kent Sievers)
||I Do, Then I Donate
BY DRU SEFTON
Newhouse News Service
Stories by Dru Sefton
Here come the brides, and there go their gowns --
whisked off to charities after the nuptials.
"It's a really expensive item to just have tucked into a
closet," said one donor bride, Susan Cunningham. "I wore it at
such a happy time; it's nice to know it can provide more
Once upon a time, new wives saved dresses for their daughters-to-be. But
those now-engaged daughters are realizing that the gowns, stored for
decades, often are hopelessly out of style, don't fit or just aren't to
So more of today's brides are opting to donate their new gowns to
nonprofit groups -- for less fortunate women, to be sold for fundraising
or to create other items.
Organizations such as the I Do Foundation, which promotes charitable
wedding giving; the Mitzvah Messenger Project that transports dresses to
needy brides in Israel; the Mary Madeline Project, sewing infant burial
outfits; and Brides Against Breast Cancer, which has raised around
$400,000 with its sale of donated gowns and quilts sewn from older
dresses. There are even groups that forward bridesmaids' dresses to
high-school girls for their prom night.
Dress donation is becoming wildly popular.
"We always collect more gowns during an event than we sell,"
said Fran Hansen, co-founder of the Making Memories Breast Cancer
Foundation Inc. "Recently in Atlanta we sold over 100 donated
gowns, but collected over 500 more."
The main fundraiser for Making Memories, which grants wishes to
terminally ill breast-cancer patients, is the Brides Against Breast
Cancer Nationwide Tour of Gowns (http://makingmemories.org/babc.html).
Dresses provided by women and bridal shops are sold for a fraction of
"Most of the gowns retail pretty much in the range of $1,200 to
$3,200; we sell them for $49.99 to $599, depending on condition,"
Hansen said. She and her daughter, Anna Nelson, began the group in 1997
in Portland, Ore., after Hansen received a false positive breast cancer
test result and discovered how women battling the disease often needed
Since January 2000, Making Memories has collected more than 10,000
gowns. Those too old or damaged are sewn into ornate quilts that bring
$2,000 or more.
The I Do Foundation uses donated dresses in a different way. That
nonprofit, based in Washington, D.C., encourages engaged couples to
incorporate charitable giving into their weddings, said Bethany
Robertson, executive director. It suggests creative ways to raise
donations at weddings and provides an online charitable registry at
Donated gowns are sold through a consignment shop. The bride selects a
charity to receive 20 percent of the sale price; another percentage goes
to support the foundation's work.
A wedding gown is "a very personal item, with a lot of emotion
attached to it," Robertson said, "but these women are still
choosing to donate."
Since its launch in February 2002, the group has worked with 20,000
couples and raised money for some 300 charities worldwide.
One of those donors is Cunningham, of Arlington, Va. She's what
Robertson calls "a twofer": Cunningham purchased her gown at
Bridal Garden in New York City, which sells donated gowns to raise money
for disadvantaged youth there.
After Cunningham's wedding to Philip Eliot in June 2004, she gave the
gown to the I Do Foundation and specified that proceeds go to the Seed
Foundation in Washington, which creates public boarding schools to
prepare urban children for college.
Those who benefit from the Mary Madeline Project are grieving parents.
Carlin Kammerer of Omaha, Neb., noticed an unfilled need after her own
newborn granddaughter died nine years ago.
"We had to buy a burial outfit," Kammerer said. "It was
so hard to go into the newborn department in a department store, such a
Now she heads a group of volunteers who use wedding dresses to sew
outfits for stillborn babies and those who die soon after birth.
"We've gotten gowns from all over -- California, New Jersey, New
Hampshire," Kammerer said. (Information at http://marymadelineproject.com)
The group has delivered more than 450 gowns to hospitals around Nebraska
Needy brides in Israel are the recipients of dresses donated to the
Mitzvah Messenger Project, said George Greene, co-coordinator of the
effort with Ella Badin. The group, part of the Five Synagogues Israel
Action Committee in White Plains, N.Y., works with the Ziv Tzedakah Fund
in Israel to ensure delivery.
Over the last two years some 200 dresses have arrived, with around 20
more ready to go, Greene said.
"One of the first dresses donated was my wife's," said Greene,
of Chappaqua, N.Y. "It was worn by an elderly French woman whose
Jewish father fled the Nazis. She moved to Israel and wanted a religious
ceremony. She remarked how beautiful the dress was."
Bridesmaids are contributing gowns as well. One group collecting those
is the Fairy Godmothers of Flagstaff, Ariz., sponsored by the Elks
Ladies of Lodge No. 499.
"They are gorgeous gowns," organizer Janice Trumpp said.
"We also have evening bags, shawls, shoes and jewelry."
On April 23 more than 80 high-school students arrived at the lodge to
browse through hundreds of potential dresses for this year's prom.
"All we ask is they bring a student ID and a nonperishable canned
good," Trumpp said. More than 150 cans of food were collected for
After the prom "some of them even redonate the dress," she
added. "It just keeps going and going."
May 12, 2005
(Dru Sefton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)