Promapalooza in Lansing, Illinois

Transformation happens at the Community Closet at First Christian Church

by Jamilyn Hiskes

LANSING, Ill. (March 31, 2019) – Pleased laughs rang through the air inside First Christian Church of Lansing on March 31 as about 30 teenage girls turned up for the church’s annual Promapalooza event.

Hosted by Community Closet—a “zero-dollar operation” thrift shop run out of the church—Promapalooza is a day when girls who can’t afford a dress for their prom, their graduation, or another formal event, can come and find a dress, shoes, and jewelry for free. This is the event’s seventh year, according to co-founder Laura Hensley, and its mission to make dreams come true has remained the same throughout those years.

Laura Hensley started Promapalooza in her living room seven years ago. Now the annual event is held at First Christian Church of Lansing. (Photo: Jamie Hiskes)

“We don’t want someone to give up on their prom just because of a few dollars,” Hensley said.

Hensley’s daughter, Michelle Perry, was the impetus behind Community Closet. She was inspired to start taking in donated goods to help those in need after reading a story about an abused, displaced baby on Facebook. She was 16 years old at the time and used the social media platform to gather donations of diapers, clothes, and other supplies to make the infant’s relocation go more smoothly.

“It kind of just snowballed from there,” Perry, now a 23-year-old teacher, said. “We’ve helped fire victims, homeless people, pet shelters. We try to spread out as much as we can.”

Community Closet started in Perry and Hensley’s living room, and seven years later they have donations being delivered to First Christian Church of Lansing in vans and semi trucks. They get enough items to serve Lansing, Steger, Hammond, and several other nearby communities. Hensley said it’s because of their incredible base of donors.

“If we have a specific need, we can post it on Facebook, and within 20 minutes, for some odd reason, we get what we need,” she said. “We’ve not failed yet.”

Shoes and jewelry are available at the Community Closet during Promapalooza. (Photo: Jamie Hiskes)

Prom dresses, shoes, and jewelry are only a small fraction of the items that Community Closet takes in, but during Promapalooza each year, they’re the most popular items in stock. Every style from mermaid to ball gown was available this year, in any color or size a prom-aged girl could dream of. Some even still had price tags on them. The number of dresses was almost enough to completely fill the room they were being displayed in, and almost every one was held up and examined or tried on at least once.

Codi Killis of Beecher brought her three teenage daughters to the event this year, after bringing only one last year.

“I just wanted them to have some nice dresses for their school dance,” Killis said. “We saw a post about it [on Facebook] and decided to come out.”

Her daughters laughed and tried on dresses with some of the other visitors throughout the afternoon, helping each other choose which one to try on next and offering shoe suggestions—with some help from Hensley. She recalls one girl last year who chose a dress no one thought would leave the rack.

“It had big purple and red spots all over it,” Hensley said. “But she was thrilled with it and she looked beautiful in it when we saw the pictures.”

Every Sunday when Community Closet is open is “craziness,” according to Hensley, but it’s all worth it to her.

“I just love hearing the giggles,” she said. “These kids all do it together. They’re not all related, but they’re helping each other. They’re good kids.”

One girl left the church this year with a purple leopard-print dress that made her smile ear-to-ear when she wore it. Another left with a poofy white gown decorated with purple accents, along with a pair of black suede heels. At the end of the event, every girl left with at least one dress they’d fallen in love with. Hensley credits all of it to their donors.

“If you give people a chance to do good, people will do good,” Hensley said. “They want to make life better for somebody else because they can.”

First Christian Church of Lansing is located at 2921 Ridge Road. Community Closet is open 12:30–3:00pm every Sunday, except the first Sunday of the month. More information is available at their Facebook page, “The Community Closet of Steger and Southlands.”

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