5 October 2023

'They're our kids': Community donations the perfect fit for bringing school formal style within reach

| Claire Sams
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A group of people standing together in front of a clothes rack with formal dresses hanging from it

Queanbeyan-Palerang Mayor Kenrick Winchester with community members Gillian Southwell (third from right) and Pauline Leake (far right) at the showroom’s opening. Photo: Gillian Southwell/Facebook.

Many of us have some clothes that don’t fit us anymore or ones we purchased but never wore – and a community initiative is seeking to put them to good use.

Pauline Leake and Gillian Southwell are the women behind the initiative, named Formally Yours.

“Times are tough – and ever since COVID, everything has gone up in price,” Ms Leake said.

“We’ve had kids ourselves who have gone to formals, and it does cost money but they usually only wear their dress once.

“So we thought that there’s probably a need for someone to give a hand so everyone can have a fantastic formal experience.”

Once they made the initial event on Facebook asking for donations, Ms Southwell said it had proven popular.

“We’ve just had people inboxing us all the time, asking how to get involved,” she said.

“They’ve been dropping them at Pauline’s house or my house for the past three weeks.

“I think we have at least 400 dresses now.”

Donations have also included shoes, make-up, jewellery, suits and other formal attire.

Young people from the Queanbeyan-Palerang region are able to browse the collected items and pick out their look for their formal at no cost, though it is restricted to one outfit per person.

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Ms Southwell said that in the days since the showroom opened, teenagers and their families from across the region had been getting involved.

“We’ve had kids coming from Queanbeyan, but also Braidwood,” she said.

“We’ve got kids that go to school in Canberra, they’ve got their clothes and stuff.

“They’re our kids, they’re our community.”

Ms Southwell said the impact on young people had been clear.

“They walk out, fully decked out, with their dress, shoes and everything else they need – and the biggest smile,” she said.

“They walk out with a smile and a whole lot of confidence.

“It really is so heartwarming to see.”

Those aged under 18 must come with an adult.

Ms Leake said the strong response from the Queanbeyan-Palerang community had not been a surprise.

“Queanbeyan is great at giving,” she said.

“Whenever we’ve had to put the call out for anything, people always give.

“It’s the whole Palerang region, as well, that is a giving community.”

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While Formally Yours is open until late October, a return in 2024 is already being planned.

“We’ll start in August next year,” Ms Leake said.

“A couple of the regional schools had their formals a couple of weeks before we actually opened.

“That’s why we want to come in a little bit earlier next year to cover them, as well.”

Donations are still being accepted by Formally Yours, with suits and men’s and women’s shoes of all sizes being particularly welcomed.

The Formally Yours showroom is in Shamrock Lane, near the Queanbeyan Leagues Club. It is open until 22 October, from 2 pm to 6 pm Wednesday to Friday, and 10 am to 2 pm Saturday and Sunday.

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