By GLENN KAHL
209 staff reporter
Prom dresses — many still having their original price tags — have been given to high school girls who otherwise might not experience the thrills of their prom dance and feeling like a princess for the evening.
It all started with Ripon High School junior Marissa McLeod who had a passion for helping her classmates collected prom dresses from previous graduating seniors. Her home became the go to place for young ladies needing something special she hoped would give them the experience of feeling like a princess for a night.
When she died unexpectedly, her mother, Melinda Shaw, took over the closet and memorialized it after her daughter — naming it Marissa’s Closet — with its first home in the downtown locating in the former Ripon Drug Store building -- offered by its owner free of any rent.
After three years in the drug store, Shaw purchased a building on Main Street near the small community’s main intersection where they have continued providing the spotless used and new gowns many originally priced at $400 with the tags still showing.
Shaw and her mother Debbie Kriletich have managed the shop with a handful of volunteers for the last six years. Shaw has a management position in the Bay Area and most of the work is the focus of her mom who also cares for an aged family member 24/7 in her home. She is so passionate with what she is doing for teen girls that she hires a nurse to go to her home when she is working at the closet which is open now on limited hours two days each week
“I have been running it since it opened. I love to see the girls come in,” Kriletich said. “We have only one fund raiser a year and we can’t get volunteers to come in and help. We supply dresses for Ripon High School girls as well as Ripon Christian High School as well as schools from as far as Sacramento, Merced, Stockton, Elk Grove and Modesto,” she said. “We get single dads who are raising their girls alone leaving with their daughters who have found their perfect evening gown with tears in their eyes as they leave the store.”
OIn the last six years Marissa’s Closet has given out some 35,000 dresses to teens who couldn’t otherwise afford their special night at the prom. Some have to be cleaned because of the many girls who have tried them on in the shop, she added.
Kriletich said their efforts have less than a lukewarm response form the community. The disbanded Soroptimist Club was there for them, she noted, and the Ripon High Quarter back club occasionally, but she said for the most part volunteers have been scarce and their fund raisers poorly attended.
“I’m tired of begging for help,” she said. “It’s not for me — it’s for the girls and Marissa’s memory,” Kriletech said. “We have had dinner dances, and a golf tournament in the last two years but we can't get people to come out — we’re paying for most of the activities out of pocket.”
The Ripon grandmother said this is the one place where high school girls can get a dress without charge -- after trying on many from the racks -- and walking out happy and with a smile on their faces.
Many of the gowns have come from dress shops that have closed in the Bay Area and in the Central Valley and others that have been donated from family closets after other girls have moved on into college.
”We’re also helping kids who have been on drugs and educationally handicapped teens who have their own special proms,” she noted.
They have also been known to provide tuxedos and buy prom bids for kids who would not have been able to attend their proms proms.
As for drug usage, she noted that Ripon hasn’t been untouched -- “it’s happening everywhere,” she said. The Closet has also been helping girls from homeless shelters who are attending the public schools.
The effort for the gowns has also touched winter formals, home coming queens, pageants and sponsoring numerous fashion shows.
Marissa’s Closet now has nearly 1,000 dresses on its racks, awaiting the onslaught of prom bound teens who are instantly thrilled with the selection as they enter the front door at 102 West Main Street in Ripon.
To contact Glenn Kahl email firstname.lastname@example.org.