VANGIE Hillyard’s school formals remain some of her most cherished memories.
“I love, love loved picking out my dress for year 10 and 12 - I had both made,” Ms Hillyard said.
“But I knew it was a massive stretch for my Mum, she went without so I could have a beautiful dress, shoes and my hair done.
“I knew there were other families in similar situations doing it tough and some kids who may not be able to go to their formal because their family couldn’t afford it.
“I thought it would be horrible to be in that situation - where everybody around you is getting excited and looking forward to it and you miss out.”
Ms Hillyard has established From Us To You NSW, a campaign to collect unused and preloved formal wear and offer it for free to teenagers in need.
“I thought I’ve got some dresses that I’ll never wear again that I could give to high school kids and if I do, I’m sure a lot of other people would too,” she said.
“I thought someone should really organise this and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be me.”
Since launching her Facebook page on July 17 she has been inundated with close to 120 dresses, 40 pairs of shoes, three shirts, two suit jackets, jewellery, clutches, and hair accessories from labels including Chanel, Patricia Field, Wayne Cooper, Sportscraft, Review, Cue, Tony Bianco, Ted Baker, Nine West, Marcs, Alannah Hill and Mimco.
“It’s been amazing, people’s generosity is just astounding,” she said.
“It’s a little bit more personal than putting items in a charity bin where it goes off into oblivion - you know this is going to a high schooler who can’t afford it and might not be able to go.”
Ms Hillyard said it was hard to estimate the size of the need across the region.
But her Department of Human Services role working with customer records and her experience liaising with customers face to face has shown her action is necessary.
“I know from work there’s a lot of single parent families and a lot of families struggling financially,” she said. “We’re not going to be asking people for bank balances – if the students find something they want, it’s theirs.”
Ms Hillyard said she was “obsessed” with fashion and dressed for her job “like I’m going to work for Vogue”.
“I know there’s a lot of people who think fashion is superficial, but I consider it such a powerful form of self expression. If you feel good on the outside, you feel good on the inside too.”
Donations in good condition that aren’t torn or stained can be taken to or posted to addresses in Belmont North and Newcastle West.
Ms Hillyard is also looking for donations of clothing racks and a steam iron, plus hairdressers, beauticians and car hire businesses that want to offer free or discounted services. Leftover items will be given to Lifeline.