When Sherrill and Joe Garrett’s 7-month-old son, Jacob, died in May, they were devastated.
“It just seemed like our whole world just collapsed and we didn’t we didn’t really know what to do,” Sherrill Garrett, 41, told ABC News.
The Checotah, Okla., couple had a blended family. When they got married in June, she had two sons and he had four daughters. Jacob — whom they called Jake — was their only child together, and when he died of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome, she sought ways to cope with her grief.
Her friends on Facebook suggested she perform volunteer work at a nursery or church, but a conversation with another friend planted the seed for another idea. She and that friend had previously discussed how expensive it could be for girls to go to the prom, and the issue had come up again.
“She said, ‘You know, I want to tell you that as I sit here and listen to my daughter talk about who she’s going to date and who she’s going to go to the prom with, and I couldn’t help but thinking that 15 years from now you’re going to wonder who Jake would have taken to the prom,’ and I thought, ’15 years from now? I just need to get through the day,’” Sheila Garrett recalled.
But she thought about the woman’s suggestion that she do something related to helping girls with prom outfits and name it in honor of her son, and with her husband’s agreement and support, Dresses for Jake’s Dates was founded.
The organization provides fancy dresses on loan — along with shoes and jewelry — to local girls who can’t afford to deck themselves out for the prom. Since the Garretts created a Facebook page for the organization in October, supporters from nearby, as well as from Texas, Colorado and Arizona, have sent them more than 200 dresses.
The Garretts can’t believe the response. People have even volunteered to do girls’ hair and buy then flowers.
“It’s amazing,” Joe Garrett, 43, said. “I never would have thought, you know, something like this would happen … I mean it’s just God’s work that it’s happening. That’s the way I feel. Jacob was my only son, and I mean, it’s an honor, I guess, for me to keep his name out there.”
His wife said this venture has given way to other ideas. They’re now asking Facebook friends to contribute items so they can throw showers for expectant mothers, and they plan to host a 5K walk/run to raise money for local prom activities — but only when their Facebook page gets 1,000 likes. They were at 875 likes on Tuesday night.
Dresses for Jake’s Date’s isn’t an official non-profit organization, but the Garretts are working on it. Any monetary donations made are deposited into a memorial fund for Jake, which they’ll use to clean the dresses or buy flowers.
Any girl in need who lives in the area can contact the Garretts to request a loaner dress.
“All we ask is that the need be real and it’s an integrity thing and that they’ll promise that they pay it forward,” Sherrill Garrett said.
She knows first-hand what it’s like to not be able to afford a prom dress. Her mother had someone sew a prom dress for her when she was a teen and she remembers being embarrassed by it then.
“If we can provide financial relief for one family and make one little girl feel like a princess for a night, then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do,” she said. “I just — we could crawl into a hole and feel sorry for ourselves because we lost our son, we really could. But we don’t feel like that’s what God would have us do.”