Gift the Gown event provides gifts that keep on giving

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Twelve-year-old Anna McVay, left, and her mother Tracy McVay, wife of Sgt. Maj. Will McVay, Warrior Transition Battalion, try on dresses together at the fall Gift the Gown event at USO Fort Riley Oct. 21. At the event was a representative from Army Community Services helping participants with military ball etiquette queries.

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Courtny Banks, left, wife of Pfc. Jacob Banks, 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, gets some help from Vera Gaer, USO Fort Riley volunteer, at the Gift the Gown event Oct. 21 at the USO. Banks, who said she has never attended a military ball before, ended leaving with a free periwinkle blue sateen gown.

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A military dependent examines a dress during the annual free event Gift the Gown hosted by USO Fort Riley Oct. 21 at the center. The event was a way for people to donate their gently used dresses, shoes and accessories and give another the opportunity to receive the same items for free.

Donations arm military spouses, dependents with necessary attire

PAYING IT FORWARD: About 79[sic] gowns went to a new home during Gift the Gown, a USO Fort Riley-organized event.

“It’s amazing for people to donate dresses and give the opportunity for someone else to come in and pick one out, and wear to a ball or fancy event or anything like that.” -Aaron Laughlin, Military Spouse

Eva Torrez wife of Staff Sgt. Joshua Torrez, Company G, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and her friend Aaron Laughlin, wife of Spc. Brent Laughlin, Co. G, 1st Bn., 16th Inf. Regt., 1st ABCT, held on to the clear bags containing their newly acquired gowns. They listened as to Jane Brookshire, Army Family Team Building, Master Resilience Training and Army Family Action Plan program manager for Army Community Service, gave them a few tips on where to find accessories to go with their dress.

Laughlin attended Gift the Gown, a USO Fort Riley organized event, two years ago and decided to invite her friend Torrez with her this time.

“It’s my first time and she just told me about it like an hour ago,” Torrez said, which caused Laughlin to burst into laughter. “I think it’s good because we can give (the gown) back and another person can use them. And then it just keeps going, and going and going.

”The two took advantage of the free event and Laughlin said even though they did not have a specific occasion coming up, there will be many opportunities to wear their dress. “It’s amazing for people to donate dresses and give the opportunity for someone else to come and pick one out and wear to a ball or fancy event or anything like that,” Laughlin said. “We’ll have plenty of balls coming up soon.”

Laughlin and Torrez waited for about two hours for their turn to pick out a free dress. The event is organized for military spouses and dependents to get a formal dress and accessories such as shoes, purses, shawls, jackets costume jewelry and more, at no cost to them.

Sarah Rawitch, USO programming intern from Kansas State University, was the coordinator in charge of this fall’s event. She said this is the biggest Gift the Gown event to date.

“We have done (Gift the Gown) a few times in the past but not to this scale,” Rawitch said. “This is the largest one we’ve ever done. We’ve been posting pictures up online of our dresses and advertising (the event).”

There were more than 100 dresses showcased. Interested participants signed in and waited for their turn to head back to look at the free dresses and accessories. Since there were only five fitting rooms, and about 87 people were in attendance, the wait was long, but worth it because the cost of dressing up for an event can rapidly increase, said Crystal Tinkey, Fort Riley USO center operations and programs manager.

“What’s a little bit different this time is we have a significant amount more of shoes, accessories, purses, shawls and jackets,” Tinkey said. “I know sometime[s] you’ll spend a few hundred dollars on dresses, and then you’ll spend $50 to $100 on shoes, and maybe $50 to $100 more on accessories, and then getting your makeup done, so it adds up quickly.”

About 79[sic] of the gowns went to a new home during the event.

All the items offered at the event were donations by not only the Fort Riley community, but also from communities surrounding the area. Tinkey said she hopes at the next Gift the Gown, the USO will be able to offer free workshops on how to get hair and makeup done inexpensively. This was something they tried to pull off this year, but it didn’t quite work out. “We tried very hard to have a representative here to talk about hair and makeup tips and tricks,” Tinkey said. “Regretfully a few folks that we reached out to were not available, so we hope to be able to add that component in the future, to be able to have someone on hand to teach easy tips and tricks where spouses or military kids can do their hair and makeup on their own.”

Despite not being able to offer hair and makeup advice, the USO was able to have Brookshire at the event to offer counsel on military ball etiquette.

“I am teaching what is called ‘A Night Out at the Ball’,” Brookshire said. “We teach military protocol and etiquette to spouses. This is a tailored one that is just about balls. So that they know the program of events, what to expect, what to wear, what the etiquette is, so that they know before hand and they can relax and have fun, so they know what’s coming instead of stressing out about it.”

Brookshire said the Army is big with customs and deeply seated meanings behind their traditions. She said she and her team enjoy educating people on these traditions to spread awareness.

“A lot of people really love that about the military that they have such strong old deep rooted traditions,” she said. “We do (etiquette classes) with Gift the Gown every year and we also do it with for any unit that wants us to come out. We educate them so that people are able to relax and know what’s happening and more people want to go (to balls) because people understand the tradition, and why it’s there and what to do. And then it’s no longer something that they fear… because they understand it.”

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