Joey Fradkin and Samantha Pearlstein are 13 years old, so naturally they’ve spent the last few months at a fair amount of bar and bat mitzvahs.
“We get a new dress for every single one we go to,” Samantha said. “They are really nice dresses that we grow out of after only wearing them a few times.”
Instead of letting periwinkle Betsey Johnson sundresses and classy Banana Republic ensembles face cobweb doom in their closets, the two created Dress It Up, a program for girls who can’t always afford the fanciest of duds.
“We had all this great stuff that our parents provide for us,” Joey said, and they wanted to provide the same for girls whose parents don’t always have the means to treat them to a new dress for every occasion.
The best friends, who met in kindergarten and have remained close even though Samamtha’s family has since moved from San Mateo to Danville, wanted to work together for their bat mitzvah tzedakah projects. Joey’s bat mitzvah took place March 17 at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City and Samantha’s is set for June 9 at Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton.
The girls realized they could put their outgrown dresses to good use. This, combined with a strong interest in empowering girls their age, was the inspiration for Dress It Up. The project itself is much like a tzedakah box full of dresses, with an event or two thrown in for good measure.
“We were looking for a group of girls around our age who might not have a lot of money and may not go to a lot of parties,” Samantha said. She and Joey plan events for these girls, who get to choose from an assortment of donated dresses and have their hair done by a professional stylist. Then the bat mitzvah girls throw a party with music, food and speakers who give talks on various topics, like self-esteem and nutrition.
The first Dress It Up party was for sixth-grade girls and boys (although only the girls get the hair-styling treatment) on May 11 at a middle school in San Francisco. Sam and Joey collaborated with a few of the girls from the school in planning the event for approximately 100 students.
“We wanted them to be involved in the planning of the party,” Joey said, explaining that its Mardi Gras theme was chosen per the students’ request. Ditto for the educational topic of discussion.
“We asked the girls what topic they would like us to cover, and they picked nutrition,” Samantha said, adding, “Well, it’s what their principal requested.” Though it’s a serious topic, “We want to make it fun and not a boring lecture,” Samantha said before the event.
Samantha and Joey amassed about 80 dresses for the 50 girls to choose from. They collected them for the past six months, with donation boxes at Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City and Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, to name a couple (a full list of drop-off locations is listed on the girls’ website, www.dressitup4girls.org).
The bat mitzvah girls were delighted to see the abundance of dresses that were donated, and pleased at the overall level of enthusiasm from the community. “We have a very wide variety because everyone [who donates] has such different style,” Sam said. “We have some very fancy dresses with a lot of pouf and lace, and some simple sundresses. One woman donated two Vera Wang dresses.”
The clothes were laid out on a table, organized by size, for the girls to look through and choose from prior to the party. Then the partygoers dressed up and had their hair done by Halo Blow Dry Bar, which donated its services.
Expectations were high as the party approached. Joey was “looking forward to seeing all the girls smiling, looking through the stuff and to know that we provided it for them. It’s going to be a really great feeling that [Samantha and I] can both share.”
The party was catered by Samantha’s uncle, Yo Matsuzaki, executive chef at Ozumo in Oakland. DJ Aaron David provided the music; both donated their services.
Though Dress It Up began as a bat mitzvah tzedakah project for Samantha and Joey, the girls have no intention of ending it when the school year is over. Their dedication to the project is something they plan to continue. They will donate more dresses to George Mark Children’s House, a hospice for children in San Leandro, and throw events once or twice a year.
“We plan on keeping this up through the middle of high school,” Joey said. “We are young now, but it will only become a bigger project.”