MILFORD, Conn. (AP) – Cinderella had the most stunning gown at the ball, and she didn’t pay a penny for it. For prom this spring, students at the all-girls Academy of Our Lady of Mercy, Lauralton Hall will give local high school girls the same opportunity to look lovely without breaking the bank.

They don’t have a magic wand to wave, but the students running the school’s first-ever Fairy Godmother Initiative have found collecting beautiful dresses of many colors and sizes nearly as easy as saying, “bibbity-bobbity-boo.”

Since they started, Lauralton Hall girls have collected more than 300 new and used dresses from bridal boutiques, individuals and even New York designer Jason Wu that they will give away on April 12. They’ve catalogued them by style, color and size in preparation for a “boutique” in the school’s auditorium.

“They’re gorgeous dresses,” said Noelle Monk, a 16-year-old Lauralton Hall junior from Milford who’s one of more than two dozen girls organizing the free boutique.

“Yeah, there are moments when we’ve all been like, ‘If this dress is still left after the boutique, I’m taking it,”‘ said senior Samantha Free, 18, of Stamford.

She said students collected the dresses by tapping in on connections and posting flyers in area communities, including Milford, New Haven, Stamford and Westport.

Due to an enthusiastic response from boutiques and others, the girls and adult co-adviser Cheryl Monk said they don’t need any more dresses.

Each registrant will pick a 45-minute time slot, during which she’ll get a “personal shopper” one of the Lauralton girls to help her choose a dress. Monk said they planned it that way to avoid any Black Friday-like chaos.

“We have tiny micro-size up to the 20s,” she said, adding that some of the gowns are worth $2,500.

Prom can be an expensive undertaking, with transportation, gowns, tickets and dinners.

Free said she’s already spent about $1,000 and she hasn’t bought a dress yet. The Lauralton Hall girls want to give area girls who might not otherwise be able to afford a stylish gown the chance to get one under the premise that “every girl deserves to feel like a princess.”

But the Fairy Godmother Initiative is about more than dresses.

The girls are asking all registrants to bring with them three cans of food for area homeless people, as well as a high school student ID.

“We wanted to do something girly,” Free said. “We like prom dresses, we like helping people in the homeless shelters that need food, so we kind of meshed the two together. The feedback has just been overwhelming.”

The initiative started as a service project for Crusader Radio, the school’s student-managed Internet radio show, but more and more girls wanted to get involved as they learned about it, Cheryl Monk said.

Although Free won’t be around next year, other girls, including freshmen Kati Sheffield, of Shelton and Amanda Sherard, of New Haven, said they plan to continue the initiative each year they’re at Lauralton Hall.

AP-ES-04-05-08 1507EDT

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