[EDITOR'S NOTE — Difference Makers articles share stories of the local heroes making a difference in the Mahoning Valley. This section is made possible by our partners at America's Wholesale Outlet.]
NORTH LIMA — DIVA Donations provides gently used formal dresses, like prom and bridal, to women and teens of the Mahoning Valley through community donations.
Kristin Bodendorfer, owner of DIVA Donations, 11836 South Ave., Door E on the second floor, describes the operation as “the first formal clothing closet in Mahoning County.”
DIVA Donations has served more than 3,000 girls in 12 counties in three states since its start 10 years ago.
For formal events, dresses are borrowed from DIVA Donations for a $35 deposit. That deposit is refunded to teenagers who complete the Kind Deed Currency Program, which provides a dress, shoes, jewelry, corsages, and other extras like makeup and perfume for free to girls who complete two hours of community service to any 501(c)(3) organization in their area.
“If she doesn't [complete the Kind Deed Currency Program], she still gets $20 back and we keep $15 to clean the dress and maintain the closet,” Bodendorfer said.
Additionally, various area businesses have rallied around Diva’s Donations to donate nail, hair and photography services to prom-goers for their school dances in previous years as well.
The initiative began in 2011, when Bodendorfer’s daughter was getting ready to move out of the house. Going through her daughter’s closet they came across formal dresses “which helped her and her friends attend numerous dances.” She and her daughter loved to look for bargains on prom dresses and purchase them for teens who couldn’t afford to buy a dress of their own. At the time, Bodendorfer’s family had 15 formal dresses in their personal collection.
Bodendorfer told Mahoning Matters she felt “called to do something” with the dresses, so she put a call-to-action post on Facebook.
“I basically put a post on Facebook that said, ‘Prom’s coming. If anybody needs a dress, let me know. And if anybody has a dress, let me know.’ I ended up with 200 dresses in three months,” she said.
At the time, Bodendorfer was also contacting resell retail stories and asking for their extra inventory. She said one woman donated 600 dresses from her store in Lisbon that was closing.
“My husband [and I], we literally hung racks [and] ladders across my garage. All these dresses were in bags, [so we] hung ladders across my garage while I was trying to find a location,” she said.
Now, DIVA Donations is located inside Old School Marketplace North Lima and has five rooms within the marketplace, including a prom room, a homecoming room and an accessory room equipped with a wall of jewelry and shoes. The accessory room is also home to the organization's five dressing rooms and has a large golden mirror and a painted silver runway for customers to model their potential purchases.
Also, DIVA Donations has a “Devoted Diva’s Boutique” room, which Bodendorfer described as a place for donations that don’t work for their clientele but can be used in other ways, like bridesmaid dresses, mother of the bride dresses for a minimal cost “like $5 or $10.”
“Devoted Divas Boutique lets us fundraise without having to have these big giant fundraisers,” she said. “We still have to be able to maintain.”
The organization recently opened a Fairy Godmother Room to host children's parties. The room also serves as a fundraising opportunity for the organization, and provides “Princess For a Day” birthday party experiences for 10 children, plus the party host, for two hours for $150.
A party booking in The Fairy Godmother Room includes party supplies, invitations, one party attendant, thank you notes, a choice of jewelry from Devoted Diva’s Boutique for the host, decorated party space, a throne for the host, a dress-up selfie station, crafting area to create a craft to take home, a dance party and a tour of DIVA Donations.
Extras for The Fairy Godmother Room are also available like a princess hostess, tiaras, wands and more.
“What’s really great about The Fairy Godmother Room is for every party … we donate a party experience to a child in foster care,” Bodendorfer said.
“So you get two parties, for one and you're helping somebody else have that experience that they might not ever have.”
Bodendorfer told Mahoning Matters that DIVA Donations has also become a “training facility” for special needs adults and teenagers that are entering the workforce.
“They would come out on Thursdays [before the COVID-19 pandemic] and they would learn merchandising and matching and sizing and all the things that you need to do to work in a store of some type,” she said.
Bodendorfer said DIVA Donations does not require recipients of DIVA Donations dresses or services to provide financial records in order to take advantage of the organization.
“You can't take somebody's end of the year income and say, ‘Yes, you qualify. No, you don't qualify.’ You don't know what people are doing and what things are going on in people's lives. If somebody is coming to us, we're going to help them,” she said.
At this time, DIVA Donations is operated by volunteers and open by appointment only.
“We do serve both [boys and girls] because, for us, it's anybody who needs to dress. We don't judge,” Bodendorfer said.
Visit their website to book an appointment, or inquire about donation and volunteer opportunities.