Don’t throw out that prom dress! Kristi Smith Knutson, Founder of the Princess Project, believes she can find a happy home for it. 

Founded in 2002, the Princess Project collects gently used dresses to donate to high school girls who couldn’t otherwise afford to go to prom. The non-profit organization is staffed by volunteers who sort donated dresses by size, collect donations of makeup and accessories from retailers, and help the girls “shop” for the perfect outfit during give-away season in March.

“Our high school friend, Li, mentioned to us that she couldn’t afford to go to prom,” recalls Smith Knutson. “We were certain we could help her out, as many friends we knew had bridesmaids’ or formal gowns sitting unused in their closets. We sent out an email to about twenty friends, hoping to collect a handful of dresses and accessories…within the week we had over 500 emails from people all over the (San Francisco) Bay Area wanting to get involved.” The organization now serves 6,800 girls.

“It isn’t just about receiving a dress, but it’s about showing girls that there are women out there who care, who want to make a difference in their lives,” says Smith Knutson. “We’ve had numerous girls tell us that they, too, hope to volunteer someday, or donate their dresses next year, or even aspire to starting their own non-profit organizations. The dress is really the tip of the iceberg!”

All girls need to go on a "shopping" spree is a high school ID and an appointment, which they make by showing up in person during giveaway season. Then, a volunteer helps them find dresses in their size, while a female friend or family member provides feedback. “The girls who walk through the Princess Project doors come in every shape and size,” explains Smith Knutson. “Each is looking for a gown that speaks to her unique tastes and sense of style. We learned early on that all our volunteers must remain “style neutral” and encourage each girl to choose the dress that she thinks is best for her…We know that high school girls are continuously bombarded by images of the “perfect” body, and we want to do everything we can to off-set those messages by reminding girls they already are beautiful!” To this end, the organization supplements its collection of donated dresses with purchases of dresses in sizes 0-2 and 16+, so every girl will find something she loves.

Do you or your daughter have a dress, jewelry or some cash to donate? The Princess Project starts accepting dresses again in January, but some similar organizations accept donations year round. Check here for a list of organizations near you: