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Prom dress donation program honors Md. teen

Wednesday - 5/23/2012, 1:18pm  ET

Carroll County Times

WESTMINSTER, Md. - The spirit of Rita Medeiros lives on through Rita's Closet, a prom dress donation program started by the Medeiros family and DeMario Bridal and Formal to benefit young girls.

Rita Medeiros, 16, died in a vehicle crash April 2. She would have been a senior at Westminster High School this fall.

Rita bought her prom dress from DeMario Bridal and Formal the day before her fatal accident. The last picture taken of Medeiros was a picture of her trying on her dress at DeMario. At the time of the accident, her prom dress was still in the back of the vehicle.

DeMario Bridal and Formal collaborated with the Medeiros family to form Rita's Closet _ a program where anyone can donate their previously worn dresses to young girls who may be looking for one.

Rita was always a giver, said Dawn DeMario, owner of DeMario Bridal and Formal.

"We felt the need to give back in her spirit and honor her the way that she honored everyone," she said.

Tamara Medeiros, Rita's mother, said her daughter was always someone who cared about other people. Medeiros described Rita as "the onboard counselor for other people" and "a really good listener."

Medeiros said it was her daughter's gift of giving of herself that the program was born out of.

Anyone can take a previously worn prom dress to the Spa at Roop's Mill, located on the same property as DeMario's shop on Taneytown Pike, to be donated.

"The donated dresses are 100 percent free, dry-cleaned, and given to the girls to keep," DeMario said.

LifePoint church of Reisterstown donated 400 dresses to kick off the program after it was formed around Easter Sunday, according to DeMario. In two weeks, more than 250 other dresses had been donated from women all over Carroll County.

"Every girl that has come in has left with a dress," DeMario says. "Seventy-four people have gotten dresses in less than a month."

Their goal is to give away at least 100 dresses. Rita's Closet has contacted crisis counselors from local area high schools to help promote the program. Rita's family and friends have also been actively involved in the program from the start, including her mother and her brother and sister who attend Westminster High.

"We are astonished at the amount that's been given," DeMario said. "Some girls have even exchanged their dresses from last year for one of our dresses."

Jewelry and shoes are being donated as well. DeMario said at least 15 pieces of jewelry have been taken along with the dresses.

DeMario Bridal is also accepting bridal dress donations. They are selling the donated dresses for $50 each and all proceeds will go to the Rita Medeiros Scholarship Fund. The scholarship was created from the money used by Rita Medeiros to purchase her prom dress and will first be awarded next spring, when Rita would have graduated.

The founders of Rita's Closet hope to keep it running for the next 10 to 20 years, according to DeMario, and eventually pass it into the hands of Rita's siblings. Rita's Closet will start collecting dresses for next year after this year's prom season, and the dresses that do not get used will be placed in storage.

Rita's Closet will hopefully expand to include homecoming dresses and other formal wear.

"It would be nice if we could have a small boutique of dresses in each high school," DeMario said.

Lisa Cole dropped off some of her previously worn gowns to Rita's Closet on May 15.

"To put a smile on a young woman's face for a special occasion," she said, "is a great joy."


Information from: Carroll County Times of Westminster, Md.,

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