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Hannah’s Prom and Dress Closet director setting up nonprofit after relocating to Spokane Valley

Karen Herford, director of Hannah’s Prom and Dress Closet, is working to sign up more volunteers and raise funds for the new location, 10619 E. Trent Ave., in Spokane Valley.  (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
Karen Herford, director of Hannah’s Prom and Dress Closet, is working to sign up more volunteers and raise funds for the new location, 10619 E. Trent Ave., in Spokane Valley. (Nina Culver/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesmna-Review

Hannah’s Prom and Dress Closet new location on East Trent Avenue sat empty during most of the pandemic because proms and other special events were canceled. But now that things are opening up again, organizers expect to be back in business.

The Closet used to be downtown at Spokane Falls Boulevard and Bernard Street, but the building sold and the Closet needed a new home.

The Closet’s director Karen Herford found space at 10619 E. Trent Ave. that has a much higher rent than the organization was paying. With the Closet essentially shut down because of the pandemic, Herford paid much of that rent herself. She’s now looking for donations to help with the monthly cost.

She’s also looking for volunteers to assist clients, organize dresses and bring dresses to and from the cleaners. Experienced seamstresses are also needed to help alter dresses.

The nonprofit organization, which was founded as Julianne’s Prom Closet in 2007, was created to provide free dresses to teenagers who needed something special to wear to prom, homecoming, graduation and other special events but couldn’t afford to buy a dress. Herford, who works as a volunteer and event manager at Union Gospel Mission’s women’s shelter, took over the organization five years ago and renamed it in honor of her daughter, Hannah.

Herford said she’d heard the previous director was thinking of shutting down the nonprofit. Herford didn’t want that to happen, but was hesitant about taking leadership of the organization on top of her full-time job and consulting business. “I thought, there’s no way I can do that,” she said.

But she did it anyway. Five years later, she has no regrets. “Yes, I worked hard the first couple of years,” she said. “I got the word out more. I made flyers and took them to schools.”

Herford also expanded the mission of the Closet.

It now offers bridal gowns, men’s formal wear and business attire for job interviews. One of the Closet’s big donors is Marcella’s Bridal, Herford said.

“She always supports us,” she said. “We probably have 20 wedding dresses right now.”

Herford said her day job helped her understand the need for dresses for special events.

“I knew the need, but I see it more working here,” she said. “There always seems to be this need that doesn’t get filled.”

The volunteers who work for the organization strive to provide a personal touch to every visitor, who are seen by appointment. Each person is helped to pick out what they want, and there are even accessories like makeup, jewelry, shoes and purses. Last year Herford even started getting volunteers to do her client’s hair and nails before the big dance.

“We do all of it,” she said.

She likes being able to provide dresses that make women feel beautiful, Herford said. “These people’s faces is what gets me every time,” she said. “They don’t realize how beautiful they are.”

Until the pandemic, business was booming. “I had people come from Portland for dresses,” she said. “I mailed some to Texas.”

This year, however, has been slow, but Herford is hopeful that things will be busy again in the fall. “We’ve probably only given away 150 dresses,” she said.

The Closet has dresses in all sizes, but Herford said she’s in particular need of larger size dresses, including sizes 20, 24 and up. “I want to make sure we can accommodate everyone,” she said.

Those who receive dresses are asked to return them, but not everyone does, Herford said. Those that are returned are cleaned and then put back out on the racks. That’s also the case for the men’s formal wear, which are in short supply.

Herford is exploring fundraising options to help the Closet continue in its more expensive location. A barbecue and estate sale is being planned for Sept. 10 and 11. Details will be released on the Closet’s Facebook page closer to the date. Herford is also considering opening an upscale boutique to help bring in an income.

“We need something more permanent in terms of funding,” she said.

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Nina Culver can be reached at nculver47@gmail.com

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