Henryville Operation Prom (HOP), consisting of Glenna Cheesman and her two daughters Emilee Cheesman and Marleah Tryon, has collected prom dresses for close to a month. On Friday, April 6, HOP set up in the Lifelong Learning Center, Henryville, and distributed dresses and other prom supplies to hundreds of girls from the four high schools affected by the storms.
HOP collected a total of 820 dresses to donate to the victims.
"We had a woman from Wisconsin, who had contacted us earlier in the month and met with us on Friday to deliver 70 dresses," Glenna said. "Then we had a woman from the northern portion of Indiana who brought us 500 dresses, and girls from Ball State University delivered dresses to us on Friday as well."
HOP not only delivered dresses, but also visited the area to see the devastation with their own eyes.
"It's still so very evident of the damage there," she said. "It took our breath away and brought many tears. It truly made you appreciate just how quickly everything can be taken away."
Glenna told The Brazil Times how she saw homes that had been completely wiped off their foundations with only chimneys remaining.
"Trees were stripped like a bomb had gone off," she said. "Cars were thrown around and pelted like they had been hit with baseball bats.
She spoke of the school being completely demolished and a gas station "completely wiped off the grid."
"We saw houses that looked like someone just took a bite out of it or totally sucked up everything out of it, leaving only the walls," she explained.
Although the devastation is still evident, HOP found a way to bring some joy and excitement to the victims. Glenna told The Brazil Times many stories from their day of distributing dresses.
Glenna told the girl the dresses were completely free.
"She just cried and said 'Seriously?'" Glenna said. "My girls and I dressed her from head to toe. She cried the whole time. Once we got her in a dress, she wouldn't take if off. She wanted to wear it home."
Another story included a girl who came in by herself and only wandered around, Glenna told The Brazil Times.
"My daughter, Marleah, went over to help her, and she told her that she had never been in a prom dress before and didn't know what to do. She said her grandmother was in the car and had told her she could look around, but not to get a dress because they couldn't afford it," Glenna said. "We explained that the dresses were free. When she tried a dress on, she told us she didn't have any under garments to wear with it because they had lost everything and didn't have money to purchase those things. She said they were taking everything they had to buy food and provide for her other four siblings."
HOP made sure the girl left with many needed items. They got the girl's grandmother out of the car and explained to her there was no cost for the dresses. The grandmother cried and told HOP she had never seen her granddaughter in a dress before because they couldn't afford it.
"Many of the stories we heard were similar," Glenna said. "They lost everything with no hopes of going to prom. They were basically focused on just getting by, with no time for extras. When we were able to tell them the dresses were free, many flew out the door and came back with classmates."
HOP not only helped with prom, but they were able to dress many girls for graduation too.
HOP also had 12 wedding dresses available and was able to give six of them to someone in need.
One wedding dress went to an older woman who came in with her daughters and granddaughters. It was her 50th wedding anniversary, and her and her husband were planning to renew their wedding vows. The woman told Glenna that they wanted to have a "real wedding," because when they got married they didn't have the money to plan a wedding.
The couple had originally planned to have all their children come to the second wedding. The woman wanted to wear the wedding dress she had worn for their first wedding. However, the tornadoes destroyed the home they had lived in for 50 years, as well as her wedding dress. She had come to see if any of HOP's wedding dresses would fit.
"I took her back and found one," Glenna said. "She started to cry. She pulled a photo from her wallet, and I saw that the dress I had picked out was almost identical in style to the one she originally had worn 50 years ago. I couldn't keep from crying myself."
After seven hours of finding the right dress for each girl, HOP still had about 300 dresses left, which will be going into storage for any of the students in need of a dress next year.
"It was an exhausting experience, but one that was so well worth it," Glenna said. "Touring the devastation of Henryville and the surrounding areas was something that we will carry with us forever," Glenna told The Brazil Times. "My girls and I talked the entire trip of just how amazing the experience truly was for us as mother and daughters. We talked about how we view things and take the simple things for granted."
Glenna said how much she appreciated the strangers in southern Indiana who welcomed her and her daughters, as well as all those who donated dresses and other supplies.