It’s a party, a shopping spree and a feel-good fundraiser all wrapping into one night. Love That Dress! is one of Southwest Florida’s largest charitable fundraising events, drawing hundreds of women for a frenzy of bargain shopping, while helping fund the PACE Center for Girls.
"It's a fun party with great community -- girls shopping at bargain prices in a mad-house setting," explained event founder Christin Collins.
More than 800 guests are expected to converge at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Estero while about the same number gather at the Waldorf Astoria Naples on the evening of Aug. 29 to benefit the PACE centers in Lee and Collier counties.
Guests will have their choice of more than 3,000 new and gently used dresses, including hundreds of designer dresses donated by White House Black Market. Most are priced between $5 and $40. Accessories like shoes and purses will be sold to complete the outfit. The event also features a silent auction.
In its fourth year in Lee County, Love That Dress! raised more than $120,000 last year and has done wonders to improve the visibility of the PACE Center, which operates a nonresidential delinquency prevention program for girls ages 12-18.
Donate to Love That Dress!
New and gently used dresses of all types may be donated at several Lee and Collier County collection sites through August 25:
■ White House Black Market at Coconut Point: 23161 Fashion Drive, Estero
■ Embassy Suites Hotel: 10450 Corkscrew Commons Drive, Estero
■ Laser Lounge & Spa: 20400 Trailside Drive, Estero
■ Alliance Financial Group: 14021 Metropolis Avenue, Fort Myers
■ Condo & HOA Law Group, LC: 2030 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers
■ Nu Image Cleaners - Fiddlesticks: 8911 Daniels Parkway, Fort Myers
■ SPADA Salon & Day Spa: 3161 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers
■ BB&T: All locations in Collier County
■ D’Amici Salon & Spa: 5628 Strand Blvd., Naples
■ Bristine Fine Dry Cleaners: 506 Ninth St. N., Naples
■ Waterside Shops: Management Office (next to Coach) 5415 U.S. 41 N., Naples
■ White House Black Market on Fifth Avenue and White House Black Market at Waterside Shops
The original fundraising concept has now been trademarked and donated to PACE, with five other centers holding Love That Dress! events this year, including PACE Collier. Last year's inaugural event in Naples raised $25,000, and event organizers are hoping to double the figure this year.
"Love That Dress! is as much of a 'friend-raiser' as it is a fundraiser," added Melissa Cofta, director of development for PACE Lee. "The event has enabled PACE to expose its mission to thousands of new supporters, including a younger demographic of women."
Several partnerships initiated through Love That Dress! have expanded into year-round collaborations. Dress and accessory donors have visited the PACE Center to facilitate art and jewelry making activities. One donor gave an additional 50 dresses at prom time so the girls could sport new formal wear.
Others involved in Love That Dress! -- from a videographer to business sponsors like Home-Tech, Prawnbroker Group and Jason's Deli -- also have extended their support beyond the one-day event. Home-Tech hosts a Thanksgiving feast for the PACE girls and has pledged to outfit a kitchen at the PACE Center, while Jason's Deli owner Diana Willis has offered a two-year scholarship for a PACE girl attending Florida Gulf Coast University, Cofta noted.
This year's event chair, Amy Sanford, first got involved when she was working for Embassy Suites in 2009.
"Christin Collins asked if we would be interested in hosting the event at the hotel. At that point, it was going to be a 'small dress event,'" she recalled. "Who would have guessed it would now be known as one of the largest fundraisers in Southwest Florida?"
In Collier County, the event is bringing much-needed attention to PACE's core mission of providing young women with an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.
"Awareness is a big issue for the Collier center, as it is located out in Immokalee," said Executive Director Marianne Kearns. "But the event, especially this year, is helping us make great strides in that area."
Collier Event Chair Nanette Staropoli said helping young women get their lives on track is important to her, as the mother of a daughter and as a someone who has faced her own challenges in life.
"It's easy to be touched by PACE's mission just by reading about it, but actually talking to the young ladies that have had their lives improved by PACE really drives home how important PACE's goals are," she said.
The Immokalee and Fort Myers PACE centers each serve 50-60 girls facing challenges such as abuse, school truancy, academic failure, foster care, exposure to substance abuse or incarcerated parents. Their voluntary participation in the PACE program involves a seven-hour school day, including a "Spirited Girls" course designed to help them make positive lifestyle choices.
"I don't think there is a successful female community leader who has sailed through their life untouched by circumstance," Collins noted. "It's how you react to your situation that builds your character."
She said she applauds the strength and courage of the local PACE girls. "They will be running our community with their strength, perseverance and depth some day."
IF YOU GO
Love That Dress!
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29
Where: Embassy Suites Hotel, Estero, and Waldorf Astoria Naples