Chilliwack donates dresses for Fort Mac

Women and girls are uniting in Chilliwack on Saturday to collect prom dresses and donations for Fort Mac evacuees who lost their belongings.

Chilliwack's Chanel Folk has organized a dress collection and pampering fundraiser for Saturday in the Cottonwood Mall parking lot.  She'll be collecting prom and wedding dresses to donate to Fort McMurray women and girls whose belongings were lost in the fires.

Chilliwack's Chanel Folk has organized a dress collection and pampering fundraiser for Saturday in the Cottonwood Mall parking lot. She'll be collecting prom and wedding dresses to donate to Fort McMurray women and girls whose belongings were lost in the fires.

Chilliwack is proving once again that it is a community that cares.

Only a week ago, four semi-trucks filled with food, water, and other supplies drove from Chilliwack to Leduc, Alberta to support the immediate needs of those displaced from Fort McMurray wildfires.

The ‘Chilliwack for Fort Mac’ Facebook page is nearly 10,000 strong, and members continue to collect donations and toss around ideas to help in any way they can.

That’s where Sardis resident Chanel Folk saw a woman’s post about donating her wedding dress to an evacuee who lost hers in the flames. And immediately, she thought of the prom dress hanging in her own closet.

It’s the time of year where most Grade 12 girls will have already purchased their dresses for prom, which generally falls at the end of May. It would be resting in a garment bag for months in advance, as its owner finds the perfect shoes and accessories to accompany it.

But for many, all that preparation will be for naught.

“A dress is not the thing they’ll be grabbing when they’re running out of their home,” Chanel said. “They’d be focused on their family members, pets, and maybe some of their most important documents.”

As the latest numbers indicate, more than 2,400 structures in Fort McMurray have been damaged or destroyed. Videos show neighbourhoods of homes and workplaces levelled to the ground.

The process of rebuilding and re-establishing their lives will take patience, strength and collaboration. So for those soon to graduate from high school, Chanel decided to help ease at least one of their stresses.

By coordinating with the Fort McMurray school district, she determined that there are at least 800 grads who could potentially have lost their prom attire in the fire.

She started the ‘Chilliwack Prom and Wedding Dresses for Ft Mac’ Facebook group, and put out the call to her network of post-grad friends and women from all over the Fraser Valley.

“It became a huge hit,” Chanel said. “There are so many positive replies. So many girls want to do the same thing.”

Her friend Lexy McClelland was able to spread the word further by going on-air with Vancouver country music station JRFM.

As the group grew to more than 600 members, women from communities across the province have been working together to plan what Chanel has coined the ‘Fabulous Female Festival.’

On Saturday, May 14 from noon to 6 p.m., join Chanel in the former Target parking lot at Cottonwood Mall to partake in a girl’s day for a great cause.

In addition to the prom and wedding dress donation central, beauty students will be donating their time to offer services to offer hair styling, make-up application, henna, nail services and more. And on Sunday morning, Chanel and Lexy will be borrowing Wayne Goodwin’s cargo van to hand-deliver all the donated dresses to Leduc.

Funds raised through services and snacks at the Fabulous Female Festival will first cover the gas money for the ten-hour journey, and all remaining proceeds will go to the evacuees.

In addition to dresses, Chanel hopes to collect donations of accessories and shoes as well.

“We’ll take anything at all to make these girls feel beautiful again,” she said. “We want to give them something to look forward to, after going through the worst possible situation. They’ve been so brave.”

They’ll also be accepting suits for young men.

“All the dresses that have been donated so far are so beautiful,” she said, and sizes range from 00 to 18. When they arrive in Leduc, they’ll be meeting with a leader of a Fort Mac donations group, who has planned a full-day event for Fort Mac graduating girls to try on and pick out their dresses.

Chanel is encouraging those who donate their dress to attach their name and number, allowing the new owner to send a photo of themselves in the dress on their special day.

She’s also hoping to have a few firefighters in attendance to speak about fire safety. “My dad was a firefighter, he passed away when I was seven,” Chanel explained. “I believe in firefighters, they’re the real heroes.”

Chanel begins paramedic studies in the fall, both in effort to carry on her father’s memory as an emergency responder, and to live out her mother’s message to “do something good for the world, and be strong.”

Anyone who wishes to donate can connect with the group on Facebook or join them on Saturday at the event.