TUPELO • In 2018, Memory Carouthers was participating in a group called Lifesavers, which helps girls build self-esteem. Some of the teens were talking about wanting to go to prom, but not being able to afford it.
“I told one girl if she would buy the ticket to prom, I’d buy her dress and do her hair,” Carouthers said. “After I helped the first one, others asked if I could help them. I didn’t have a job and couldn’t do it by myself, so my mom and my mom’s friend and I went in together and purchased 13 dresses.”
After helping those teens, Carouthers, who was left disabled after brain surgery in 2014, decided she wanted to do something even bigger the next year, so she could bless more girls. She sought out Juanita Floyd at CREATE Foundation to find out how to set up a non-profit.
That organization is now Memory’s Magical Dresses and Formal Wear, which provides dresses, tuxedoes, jewelry and shoes to junior high and high students free of charge for proms and dances.
Carouthers got the word out in 2018 about her non-profit and received close to 1,500 donated dresses and tuxedoes from TJ’s Pageant in Fulton, Kay’s Kreations and House of Tux, both in Tupelo, and New Albany Floral & Gifts.
In early 2019, Jeff Snyder, general manager at the Mall at Barnes Crossing, donated some empty retail space and Carouthers set up a temporary shop.
“I know we gave away more than 800 dresses last year,” said Carouthers, who lives in the Palmetto community in Tupelo. “We just keep growing.”
This year, Memory’s Magical Dresses and Formal Wear will be located in the old Charlotte Russe space near the Food Court in the mall.
It will be open Saturday and again Saturday, Feb. 29, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.
“We have close to 4,000 dresses to give away this year,” said Carouthers, 34. “Most of them are brand new and a few are gently worn.”
Students must show a student ID, report card or progress report at the door. Dresses, formalwear and shoes must be tried on in the store.
“The student must be the one who picks out the dress and tries it on,” Carouthers said. “Mama can’t come in and pick out a dress and take it home.”
Last year, 10 people were allowed in the store at one time to look for dresses, but because this year’s donated space is larger – 12 dressing rooms – more people will be allowed in to shop at the same time.
There will be a box located outside the store for people to donate new or gently used dresses and tuxedoes, and a box inside the store for monetary donations to help with the event’s publicity, insurance and supplies.
“I would love to have enough money to have my own permanent space where I could have dresses out and help students all through the year,” Carouthers said. “This is a passion of mine. I really feel blessed. It allows me to have a purpose in life again.”