MHS homecoming dress distribution a hit

Smiles abound

T-R PHOTO BY MIKE DONAHEY Director of Marketing and New Business Development Paula Wilcher of Xcel Roofing Co. of Omaha, Neb. helps a Marshalltown High School student sort through the more than 700 dresses available Saturday in the school’s cafeteria. Wilcher and other businesses and schools were part of a coalition donating the dresses.

The main entrance to Marshalltown High School was unusually busy for a Saturday morning, as dozens of MHS female students – many joined by moms – checked out some 700 homecoming dresses.

A multitude of colors – from red to pink to blue – greeted those anxious to find the “just right” dress.

The excitement was made possible by the generosity of several businesses, and ordinary Iowans and Nebraskans, who wanted to make sure girls were not deprived of their homecoming.

A coalition of dress shop owners and high school students rallied to help after Marshalltown’s Central Business District and north side were blasted by a EF-3 tornado July 19.

Many middle and lower-income households suffered extensive damage to homes and businesses.

That is when the Good Samaritans stepped up the plate.

Willards Furs and Fashions of Marshalltown was one who helped.

They were joined by Terri Smieja and Paula Wilcher from Omaha, Neb.

Schafers and Staceys dress shops of Des Moines donated dresses as well.

Southeast Polk High School students near Des Moines helped too.

“You don’t even have to think about it, you just do it, Cinderella’s Formal Gown Rental owner Smieja said. “I have a dress store. I make a lot of girls happy in Omaha … let’s give them (Marshalltown girls) a dress. I learned of the town’s plight through a business associate, Paula Wilcher. She told me what families were going through. I wanted to get involved.”

Smieja also helped collect school supplies sent to Marshalltown before the school year started. That became part of a large local and interstate effort to get supplies to local students.

“I am thrilled this event is going so well,” Wilcher said. “We are so happy … many girls have smiles on their faces. We have not seen a lot of that this summer.

Wilcher is employed by Xcel Roofing of Omaha, which has been serving a number of local property owners.

She said the team used social media to hit the Des Moines and Omaha markets, publicizing the need to get donated dresses.

“And the number who reached and helped … it has been miraculous,” Wilcher said.

She complimented Southeast Polk High School for their donation.

They held a summer fundraiser to purchase more than 60 dresses to help Marshalltown students.

Smieja and Wilcher said helping families get through post-tornado stress was important.

Dresses were neatly organized by size in a room adjoining the cafeteria.

Juniors and seniors did not have to pay, said Marshalltown Community School District Communications Director Andrew Potter.

Freshman and sophomores paid $15.

Before one could access the area, students had to sign in and show identification to staff.

“Students are not required to wear a dress, but hopefully this kind gesture will ease the burden for those who would otherwise not attend,” MHS educator and homecoming coordinator Val Hunt said.

“We opened up a few minutes early,” Potter said. “Many students are walking away happy.”

He was equally busy helping several electronic and print media reporters covering the event.

The MHS Homecoming Dance is Sept. 29.

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Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com