Maria’s Closet Makes Prom Even More Special for Local Teens

Perfect fit.

  • Category
    Fashion, People
  • Written by
    Darren Elms
  • Photographed by
    Kelly Bracken

Ronna Luna didn’t plan to get into the fashion business. Living in San Pedro with her husband, a longtime Los Angeles fire captain, she spent most of her career in title insurance sales. Then she met Gillian, a San Pedro High School student.

“Gillian was not going to be able to attend her prom because of financial constraints that she was experiencing,” Ronna shares. “Just meeting her and taking her shopping for a life event that she had worked so hard for but was unobtainable because of the price broke my heart. It was that one meeting that did it all.”

With a group of other women, Ronna formed a nonprofit called Maria’s Closet—named after her mother-in-law. Together they set out to find prom and special-event dresses for young women who couldn’t afford the purchase. 

While Ronna’s husband began building dressing rooms in their backyard with PVC pipe and shower curtains, she reached out to all Title 1 schools throughout Southern California as well as other local schools to tell them about the program. “My friends began dropping off amazing prom gowns their daughters left behind after high school as they headed to college,” she remembers. “We never looked back.”

Today Maria’s Closet presents an annual Big Give event, bringing together high school senior girls from more than 50 Title 1 schools. With the help of the city council, buses provide the teens transportation to the event from South Central, East L.A., Watts and the Valley.

“With something to look forward to, they can rock prom night without financial hardship.”

Thousands of brand-new gowns, 55 dressing rooms, balloon arches, accessory tables and swag bags await the teens when they arrive. “As the girls pour in from near and far, you can feel the excitement in the air!” says Ronna.

The Mary Star of the Sea High School gym was converted into a prom dress wonderland. More than 175 amazing volunteers from the community joined to create a fun, carefree and empowering space for a magical day of shopping and confidence boosting. Each attendee was teamed with a volunteer personal stylist to find the perfect gown. 

“The event creates a network of new and lasting friendships,” says Ronna. “With something to look forward to, they can rock prom night without financial hardship.”

Maria’s Closet has dressed more than 1,300 teens. In late March, 400 more were scheduled to attend the annual event. Many of the students are referred by the Boys & Girls Clubs, reside in foster homes or transitional housing, or are unhoused entirely. 

“We also give scholarships to these young ladies to further their education and get the basic resources to thrive in their new college environment,” says Ronna. “To date we have donated over $34,000 to our recipients.”

Three years ago, Maria’s Closet added a yearly event during April. This gathering exclusively supports special needs and disabled young women of local high schools in collaboration with the Willenberg Special Education Center in San Pedro. Adds Ronna, “Again the community shows up and shows off, giving of their time and their love and helping empower young women, one gown at a time!”

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