HIGH RIVER, Alta. - The seed of an idea to help teens in a flooded-out Alberta community get their grad back has blossomed into a full-blown movement.
Back in June, when a raging flood forced the evacuation of the town of High River, students at Highwood High School hadn't had their graduation ceremony yet.
Grad dresses and tuxedos were among the items many students lost in the flood, so recently some local organizers put out the call for a couple of dozen replacement dresses.
Instead, the dresses and suits came in by the thousands.
Project organizer Becca Keho was almost lost for words as she describes the emotions she felt when the outfits started arriving in the mail.
"Just blown away,'' she said, standing before rack after rack of sequined and poofy dresses. "It's a big deal, giving away your grad dress. But people are just handing them over like nothing.''
Many came with notes attached.
"This was my grad dress from eight years ago,'' read one. "I have been hanging onto it for the right reason and person.''
"To whoever wears these dresses, you'll look beautiful,'' read another. "Don't forget to smile - have fun, take pictures.''
Keho said some of the stories were moving.
"One of the dresses had a tag on it, and she's, like, 'oh, my daughter died of cancer two weeks before her grad, and I didn't have it in me to sell the dress or get rid of it.' ''
The spirit of the project was embraced by a Calgary shopping mall which donated a space and even decorated it so the teens could come and look for their new outfits.
"We wanted to make sure when they were coming to the space that they felt like they were getting to shop again,'' said Krista Moroz of Southcentre Mall.
"That they weren't coming to grab a dress in somebody's basement. That they were actually getting that whole experience and building on the excitement.''
It will all come to fruition on Aug. 22, when the graduation ceremony is finally held at a private school in nearby Okotoks that has offered up its facilities for the night.
The grads of Highwood High have been overwhelmed by the kindness of those involved.
"I think it's amazing what they pulled together for everyone,'' said graduate Caiden Ellice as he tried on suits in the makeshift store.
And though far more outfits were donated than will be needed, Keho said they won't go to waste - any left over will be donated to the Princess Project, a U.S.-based charity that provides grad dresses to those in need.
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