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1,400 free prom dresses available to senior girls at Marissas Closet
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Prom dresses for the asking are being made available to high school teens through the efforts of Melinda Shaw of Ripon in memory of her daughter Merissa. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — A girl’s dream of attending her senior prom in a beautiful evening gown is a real possibility for more than 1,400 soon-to-be high school graduates this year that might otherwise have to stay home on their special night.

It is all because of the determination of Marissa McLeod to make a difference at her high school that the Marissa’s Closet movement was launched and is now carried on in her memory.

Melinda Shaw has carried the drive forward that her daughter first trumpeted to provide gowns to her fellow students who might have been left out because of the hundreds of dollars in a one-time cost.  It was last year that Marissa McLeod had collected all the nearly new dresses she could find and offered them to other girls from a booth she had set up on Ripon’s Main Street.

That booth was evident in this year’s Almond Blossom Festival, too, demonstrating her love for others in her community that she might be able to give a helping hand.

Still emotionally distraught over the loss of her daughter in December, Shaw will witness the dynamic fruits of her labors this morning at 9 o’clock when the doors open at the former Ripon Drug Store building in the 400 block of West Main Street in Ripon where an almost unbelievable collection of prom dresses are to be found for the taking.

Shaw’s plan was to gather at least 700 dresses to hand out to girls this weekend – both Saturday and Sunday – but the final number topped 1,400 gowns that came to her from all over the country.  Delivered by U.S. Mail, FedEx UPS and area residents just knocking on her front door, the dresses have kept coming.  They were sent from Nevada, Chicago, Kentucky, Texas, and Kansas to name a few.

There are over 200 new dresses on the racks.  Love That Dress formal attire rental in Lodi donated 15 dresses complete with price tags.  Jaimee’s Dress Shop in Modesto pulled 12 gowns right off their rack and donated them to the cause, the mother said.

Friends searched Shaw out with new dresses, many also showing their price tags for hundreds of dollars.  She said one woman brought two saying she didn’t have any at home in the closet –  she just wanted to be part of the movement – in time for the Ripon High prom to be held at the River Mill April 17.  “The support has been amazing,” Shaw said. “I’ve had so many people helping me.”

“I’ve had a ton of help,” Shaw said pointing to Andrea Cambra who was straightening out a rack of dresses.  “She has no kids of her own, she just wanted to help,” she said.

Sponsoring upcoming Sober Grad graduation fashion show
Marissa’s Closet is planning to sponsor the Ripon High School Sober Graduation Fashion Show on March 27 using dresses from its gown collection.  It is to be held at the Ripon Community Center.

And on April 30 from 6:30 until midnight, the Marissa Alexandria McLeod Scholarship Dinner Dance and Auction and silent auction is set for the community center to raise scholarships for colleges and trade schools.  Applebee’s is catering the event.  Tickets are $20 per person and may be obtained from Marissa’s booth at the Manteca Street Faire booth or by calling 613-0836.
Two memorial scholarships will go to Ripon High School seniors.  Applicants must have a grade point average of 2.0 or higher, be graduating from high school, and have an intention of attending a college or trade school.

When the doors open this morning there will be a catered breakfast for those walking in the door and some 40 high school girls have signed up for shifts they will work over the weekend and for the next two weekends to come.  They are going to be dressed in fine prom attire as they help the shoppers go through the racks.  A raffle is set to offer a tux rental and manicures.

In addition to the gowns there are also shoes, purses and scarves teens may choose to add to their attire.  Shaw’s mother Debbie Kriletich and five other women are set to provide alternations as needed by the high school prom-goers.  Kriletich has already worked on some 200 dresses before putting them on the racks.  In excess of 100 dresses have been given to Assist International of Ripon that plans to send them off to Third World countries.

One mother who slipped in the door Friday morning found a gown for her daughter.  She admitted she had prayed to find a way to get her graduating senior a gown for that special night.  The mom told of losing her job with the family also losing their home because of the economy.

Shaw told her to have her daughter come back if it didn’t quite fit and it would be altered without cost to her to make it just perfect.  They have dressing rooms that were framed out of PVC plastic pipe by Marissa’s dad.  The draping for those changing facilities was sewn by her grandmother.

Dale Larson, owner of the 5,000 square foot drug store building, made it available to the Ripon mom allowing the program to be high profile in the downtown area.  Gown donations are going to be accepted at the site for the next two weekends.

Shaw said she visited school districts in Modesto, Stockton, Lodi, Manteca and Pleasanton asking to have her fliers distributed to the students so they would know the dresses are available.  “Lathrop High was so happy to see me they gave me a hug,” she said. Those same communities have drop off points for dress donations as well.

H&R Block in Modesto, Ceres and Turlock have offered customers $25 off of their tax services if they bring in a nearly new, formal appropriate gown for Marissa’s Closet.  Their office locations are also being used as drop off points.  The drops off locations are listed on the group’s website at

Marissa’s mom Melinda is scheduled to be on The Puff Owl talk show on Channel 26 SJTV television show Monday at 5 p.m. to tell her family’s story.  She recently spoke by invitation to the Tracy Sunrise Rotary Club.  When she was done the members – one by one – thanked her and handed her their personal donations totaling some $200 to help defray her mounting bills.  She is also scheduled to tell her story to the Manteca Rotary Club on April 29.