BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Prom season is fast approaching and students throughout the area are looking for the perfect dress to fit the occasion.

Prom dresses can range from one hundred dollars to hundreds of dollars, and for students who may not be able to afford to buy a prom dress, Colvin Cleaners is giving thousands of gowns away for free.

“We’re so excited to finally be back at Shea’s after a three year hiatus because of COVID,” said Chris Billoni, Vice President of Colvin Cleaners.

The tradition of helping give away gowns for students in need started years ago, when Paul and Cindy Billoni, the owners of Colvin Cleaners saw a need in the community.

“Every student wants to feel magical and feel like a princess and the thought of someone not being able to afford one and experiencing that magical night with their friends is truly heart breaking,” Chris Billoni said. “So if we’re able to clean these and distribute them and give them away to girls who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go, it makes our whole year.”

Amanda Meggesto, Relations Manager of Colvin Cleaners, also spoke about the event.

“Proms are so expensive, and for a student to miss that magical night because the cost of gowns–it didn’t sit right with them.” Meggesto said. “They started this program to make prom dreams come true.”

This is the 15th year the program returns to give students the chance to pick and choose from thousands of gowns, after being on a three year pause due to the pandemic.

“This whole room is filled with beautiful dresses, the dress I had back then, I felt beautiful in it.” said Dinorah E. Santos, who benefited from the event years ago. “I was happy that I was able to be a part of it, and that it’s still happening today.”

Santos was a student at McKinley High School 12years ago, when she received her prom dress in the program’s third year.

“It really lifted a burden off of my mother and myself to have to worry about finding a dress and shoes,” Santos said. “I didn’t have a quinceañera, so this was the first time that I got to go and try on these beautiful gowns.”

Colvin Cleaners collects thousands of prom dresses every year from all over, including donations from their customers, as well as donations at the Allstate Foundation and Reed’s Jenss locations, and donations from Macy’s and the Jacqueline shop.

“Really, the community comes together every single year to help this program and we’re happy to clean it and give them away, but we’re nothing without the donations,” Billoni said.

But it’s not just dresses to choose from. Once students find the gown of their dreams, there are shoes and jewelry offered by Marlena Gagner, who said the program hits close to home to her.

“My mother and I went shopping for gowns realizing that I couldn’t afford one,” Gagner said.

Years ago, realizing she couldn’t afford to buy a prom dress, Gagner and her mother went to a local Salvation Army, found a curtain, and made her prom dress out of it. Now, to help young students in a similar situation, Gagner has been creating and repurposing jewelry for the event for 13 years, and continues to pay it forward.

The event starts Tuesday at 3 p.m., and is open Wednesday and Thursday from 3-6 p.m. as well. Students who are interested in getting a free gown must sign up before heading down to Shea’s, at the registration link here. After signing up for a spot, they can head to the Pearl Street entrance of Shea’s and look through the displays of gowns on Shea’s stage.

Those interested in helping volunteer at the event, click here, or to donate a prom dress, click here.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.