Fort Riley, Kansas



Gift the Gown event provides gifts that keep on giving

By Suet Lee-Growney | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | October 27, 2017

     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 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 97 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.”