By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Prom is one of the biggest events in a high school student’s life, but after last week’s devastating F5 tornado, the students of Smithville High School were unsure what would become of their senior year traditions.
“On Wednesday we were thinking, graduation, that’s done, prom’s done, because we didn’t have a school,” Demi Grimes, a Smithville High School senior, said. “We didn’t think our senior year would end like this.”
Demi’s mother, Susan, shared her dismay over the loss of such an important moment in her daughter’s life with her co-worker, Spring Bowlin. When many of the students had lost their homes and most of their belongings, things like prom dresses and tuxedoes were not going to be easy to come by.
“When I was talking to Susan, she mentioned that Demi wouldn’t be able to have a prom. I said, ‘Yes, she can have a prom. We can do this. If you want to have a prom, I promise you I can get some dresses together,’” Bowlin said. “I posted it on Facebook. I started getting phone calls, texts, messages asking what they could do to help, where they could bring dresses. The teenage response in the New Hope and Columbus area has been unbelievable.”
“I’ve watched these children grow up from kindergarten,” Grimes said. “There was no question that this was going to be one time, for one brief moment, that the adulthood that these kids have been slung into by the tornado would be put on hold for one night. They could go back to being the seniors, and the juniors.”
From there, parents, friends, co-workers and in some cases, complete strangers were on a mission to make Saturday night’s prom the best it possibly could for the Smithville students. With the help of Facebook and text messaging, the need for dresses and tuxedoes spread across the country. They hoped for enough dresses and khaki pants for each student.
“I made two phone calls, one to a middle school teacher at New Hope, and she e-mailed all of the high school and middle school personnel. The other was to a friend’s daughter, who put it on her Facebook. We probably got 1,000 dresses just from those two phone calls because e-mails and texts were going out to everybody from there,” Bethany Wilson, who heard about the need for dresses from Bowlin, said. “It’s been amazing. My phone was ringing off the hook. As soon as I could think of another need, and think ‘What are we going to do?’ the phone would ring, and that need would be met. It was like God just kept opening doors.”
Every available space in the Amory community center was covered in silk and sequins Wednesday afternoon as volunteers sorted through the estimated 1,700 donated dresses, shoes, jewelry and men’s suits. The items came from all over the state by the truckload, including several hundred brand new dresses donated by local stores. They have also had offers for free photography, tuxedos for the boys and hair, makeup and manicures for the girls.
“I cried,” Marisa Nethery, a Smithville senior, said. “It’s really awesome to see all the support coming in. It’s overwhelming, honestly. It’s crazy how many people just want to help.”
The racks of dresses are just a fraction of the generosity the town of Smithville has received over the last week.
“We are humbled by the response,” Bowlin said, with tears in her eyes. “I was in Smithville on Saturday, and in the middle of that hell, God’s glory shown by the way people were reaching out and helping strangers. It’s something like this that kind of restores your faith in people.”
The communities across Northeastern Mississippi came together to allow the students of Smithville to escape the horror of the last week. But this Cinderella story doesn’t stop with Smithville; they plan to pass along all the dresses they don’t use to other communities affected by last week’s tornado outbreak.