By Josh Saunders
A REAL LIFE FAIRY GODMOTHER has gifted over a thousand dresses to help girls go to prom in memory of her daughter.
Betty Vitale-Neal, 62, from Amesbury, Massachusetts, USA, opened ‘Tammi’s Closet’ four-years-ago to make the dreams of school girls come true.
She came up with the idea to keep her daughter’s memory alive after donating her prom dress allowed a girl to go to prom, a decade on from the tragic car accident in 1996.
Remember Tammi’s words that she couldn’t wait for her daughter to go to prom – she embarked on a mission to make that happen and keep her daughter’s memory alive.
Betty never realised the amount of people who would use her service, with many parents saying they had to choose between paying rent or sending their daughter to prom.
This year alone she gave away 277 dresses in her own boutique and donated a further 670 to other charitable causes including Stoneman Douglas High School – site of a fatal shooting earlier this year.
People all over the world have donated to the cause their dresses, shoes and jewellery – from Scotland, Ireland and Australia to India, Canada, Africa and further.
Betty said: “I like being considered the fairy godmother, I picture myself with a wand in my hand, a big fluffy dress on and tapping girls on the head saying, ‘You’re going to prom’.
“I like what I’m doing for the girls, I love that Tammi’s name is getting out there and my family are so proud of me – I’m just happy I can help these girls.
“They normally are so excited they give me a hug, a kiss and thank me, the parents are so thankful too.
“I come home every night and talk to my Tammi, telling her how many we gave out each day so it’s rewarding.
“Tammi really looked forward to her prom, I sat up waiting for her with tea and she talked to me about what a good night it was for her.
“I remember her saying ‘I can’t wait for my own daughter to be doing this ma.’
“While unfortunately it didn’t happen, some girls remind me of Tammi by the way they talk, their excitement or expressions.
“I feel proud of what I have done in Tammi’s name, especially this year people know me from Tammi’s closet and are overwhelmed to meet me.
“I believe every girl should go to prom, it’s something that can never happen again – you can get married again, but if you miss prom that’s lost for the rest of your life.”
Tammi was talking about marriage with fiancé Kevin before her death in 1996 at the age of 19, Betty says it was devastating planning ‘her funeral instead of her wedding’.
But Betty remembers prom being a particularly special occasion for her daughter and would go onto the shape the generous charity she has set up.
She said: “We must have tried on 50 dresses, going back and forth, we were there for five hours when she finally came out with the one.
“She was so excited about it, she had bought shoes, gloves and the jewellery.”
Ten years after her daughter’s death, Betty decided to donate Tammi’s dress to her high school.
Years later she would set up ‘Tammi’s Closet’ in 2014 and quickly recognise the financial burden upon many parents who couldn’t send their daughters to prom.
Betty said: “After Tammi had been gone for ten years, I decided to donate her prom dress to her high school.
“They told me a girl had put on the dress on and it fit her perfectly, so she could go to prom.
“Someone said we should do something similar for girls who don’t have enough more for dresses.
“I jokingly said ‘Let’s open it’ and call it Tammi’s closet, five weeks later it was open.
“I never realised how many girls there would be, a lot of their mothers told me it was either they paid rent or let their daughter go to prom.
“Rent would always win out, but because of me they were able to do both, after hearing that I started seeing it differently and wanted to keep Tammi’s name alive.”
Year-on-year, the dresses have continued to flood in from all over the world.
Betty said: “It’s been massive I still receive calls asking for my address and have received Michael Kors shoes, a gift card from Macy’s and other donations.
“Girls I gave dresses to three or four years ago approach me to ask how I am. I don’t remember all their names, but two girls even get prom queen with dresses from me.
“My husband tells me I should be proud that people recognise me, it makes you feel like a movie star.
“I come home, and I’ll go onto the little deck where I talk to Tammy, I say we gave away 20 dresses so that’s 20 more girls who know your name.”
To donate to their cause visit: www.gofundme.com/tammis-closet-2ub436c
DRESSES DONATED FROM TAMMI’S CLOSET
YEAR ONE – 17 DRESSES
YEAR TWO – 54 DRESSES
YEAR THREE – 157 DRESSES
YEAR FOUR – 257 DRESSES
THIS YEAR – 277 DRESSES
OTHER GIVEAWAYS THIS YEAR – 343 DRESSES