Kevin Riordan: Prom Dresses for Patriots helps military families at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

Casey (left) and Linda Kupcha, a daughter and mother from Gloucester County, donated about 250 formals to a thrift shop at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. (Charles Fox / Staff Photographer)

Linda and Casey Kupcha support military families with silk and satin.

The Gloucester County mother and daughter solicited and donated about 250 formals to a thrift shop on the grounds of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in Burlington County.

The dresses - some new, many worn only once - are being sold far below retail. Spaghetti-strapped and halter, in a variety of colors and lengths, the fashionable frocks are priced below $50, so military families won't break their budgets.

The project is called Prom Dresses for Patriots.

"Not everyone can afford a $200 prom dress," says Jamie Dennis, president of the Fort Dix Spouses and Civilians Club.

Proceeds from the sale go to the club's scholarship fund for students from military families. About 40,000 people live or work on the joint base.

"Last summer I read a Seventeen magazine article about a dress project," explains Casey, 16, a junior at Gloucester Catholic High School. The school, in Gloucester City, encourages students to do community service.

"I thought it would be a good idea to do the project [to benefit] the military," adds Casey, who spread the word mainly through Facebook. "My dad was in the military for 20 years."

That would be Joe Kupcha, a retired Navy pilot who now flies commercial planes. As mother and daughter picked up donations and stored them at the family's home in Mantua, "Joe kept building one rack, then another rack," Linda says.

"We got so many more dresses than we thought we would. We got some children's gowns, a large amount of prom dresses, and lots of ladies' formal wear.

"We made sure every dress was steamed. We made sure everything was in top shape. No little strings hanging. No buttons missing," Linda adds.

Some arrived from their owners with the tags still on. People contributed cocktail dresses and glittery shoes, as well as jewelry and other accessories. The Bridal Manor, a shop in Washington Township, donated several brand-new gowns.

"We were happy to help them and serve our country," says Pat Balliet, a clerk at the store.

The response from the community "was amazing," Casey says.

"I began to wonder how we'd get them all to the base," Linda says.

Two weeks ago, Gloucester Catholic stepped up, making a school bus available to transport the outfits. The Kupcha collection was the centerpiece of an informal reception Sunday.

The shop is not open to the public, but civilians who have base access can shop there.

"The shop is our mainstay," Jamie says. "It generates income for our scholarships and for other organizations" on the base.

"It's amazing what the Kupchas have done," adds Andrea Williamson, treasurer of the club. "Last year we gave a $1,500 scholarship, and this year we're already over $500 in sales."

At the checkout, Heather Currie, 18, whose father is in the service, cradles a sassy red, black and silver animal-print number with a plunging everything. The Westampton resident also picks up scholarship information.

She'll wear the dress to her prom at Rancocas Valley Regional High School.

"I love it," Heather says.


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Linda and Casey Kupcha talk about Prom Dresses for Patriots:

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