Brides Across America offers gowns at event in Wyomissing

Brides Across America, whose mission is delivering wedding gowns and pink prom dresses to military or first-responder brides, made a stop Sunday in Berks County.

The Andover, Mass-based nonprofit joined forces with The Inn at Reading, Wyomissing, for a popup event dubbed "Operation Gown Giveaway."

Kathleen Cruz, event coordinator with Brides Across America, arranged for 16 veils and 54 dresses, ranging in size 4 to 24, to arrive here.

"Places like The Inn at Reading have contacted us to host events." Cruz said. "A lot of our brides, as you'll see, will drive six hours to get here."

Amber M. Stine, 32, of Temple had to drive only a few minutes. She works as a correctional officer, which qualified her for participation.

She and her fiance, Jorge L. Marte, 36, plan to wed in September 2018.

Stine, with guidance from Cruz, kept looking until she found what she wanted.

"It fits well," Stine said of her choice. "I like the lace and the beads."

She never expected to find a dress so soon. Stine had called the Inn at Reading to sign up for the hotel's Bridal Expo when she learned about Brides Across America.

Her sister Jennifer of Douglassville and their mother, Terri, helped pick the gown.

"Before today I was in charge of the guest book," Jennifer said. "Now I am matron of honor."

Brides Across America was founded in 2008 by Heidi Janson. It gives away about 2,000 dresses per year. Operation Gown Giveaway hosts big events in July and November and spots fill up fast. Success has spawned additional events, like Sunday's. The organization has donated 15,000 dresses and counting.

Ralie Heath, wedding coordinator for the Inn at Reading, said that the event was perfect to go along with the hotel's Bridal Expo.

"It's a good fit," Heath said. "We have been looking for a way to give something to the community."

Fifteen women signed up and paid a $30 registration fee, hoping to find a perfect dress for their perfect day. People came from across town, across the state and halfway across the nation.

Sarah McGoldrick, 25, and her husband, Army Sgt. Michael J. McGoldrick, were married in a civil ceremony in August 2014.

She traveled from Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma to Dallas, where she boarded a plane for Philadelphia. She then drove to Reading with her mother, Susan Baraldi, 59, of Lansdowne, Delaware County.

Sarah plans to say "I Do" again during a wedding ceremony on Dec. 23.

She said the round trip was worth it, not only for the gown, but for the chance to be with her family when she picked one.

The salon shows an array of contemporary style gowns in three colors: white, ivory and champagne. Accessories are included with some of them, but alterations are the responsibility of the new owners.

America Rojas, 33, who is in the Army Reserve, drove alone from Staten Island, N.Y., to pick a gown. She and her fiance, Fernando Herrera, 38, met five years ago, when both were deployed to Afghanistan. He is on active duty with the Army.

The two plan a June 11 wedding. Rojas was happy with her selection.

The McGills, who have a lot of military members in the family, drove here from Pittsburgh.

Rachel J. McGill is engaged to Lance Cooper, now serving in the Air Force. Her father, Stephen P. McGill, and his wife and Rachel's mother, Denise, were along to help look at gowns, and they didn't want to have leave empty-handed.

Rachel tried on a variety of dresses, eventually returning to a simple and elegant one that she had tried on early in the process.

The way the bride-to-be sees it, the dress from Operation Gown Giveaway is reducing the budget for her May 6 wedding by the price of a gown, anywhere from $500 to $2,000.

As the event came to a close, 14 young women had come as hopefuls and 13 gowns were matched to future brides.

"It is really a blessing," Cruz said. "We work one on one with people to find what they want. Not everyone's going to say yes. They have to like the base of the pink prom dresses uk, and then we can give them ideas to make it their own."