Startin School In Style Startin School In Style Startin School In Style

Philadelphia Inquirer, Posted on Wed, Aug. 17, 2005

Lucia Herndon | A fashionably charitable move

The bulging closets of some girls mean a shopping event for others.

By Lucia Herndon
Inquirer Columnist

It began simply enough for Anne Zapalac. The 13-year-old from Worcester wondered what she should do with the clothes she no longer wanted - many of them unworn.

SSIS Group
Anne Zapalac and her mother, Melodye, fold
clothes at St. Helena’s in Blue Bell for the event.

Now, many girls in her position might have felt charitable, boxed up their no-longer-wanted fashions and donated them to a thrift shop. But Anne wished to do more than just provide less fortunate girls with going-back-to-school clothes. She also wanted these teens to have the fun of shopping: going through racks of items, trying on bracelets and hats, parading in front of mirrors in hip-hugging jeans, and laughing with their friends.

"We have talked in the past about the different life we have from our near neighbors in Norristown," said Anne's mother, Melodye. (In some cases, vastly different: According to 2000 figures, the median income in Norristown is $35,714; in Blue Bell it is $94,160.) "But we really couldn't think of anything we could do to address it."

Until now.

Anne and about 20 of her classmates at St. Helena's School in Blue Bell are hosting Starting School in Style, a free "shopping-mall experience" for girls in grades 5 through 12. The event will be held Saturday and Sunday at Mercy Suburban Family Practice Center in Norristown. It is the culmination of months of work by the St. Helena girls and their mothers.

The Zapalacs first approached St. Helena's principal, Sister Cathe Shoulberg, with their plan in April. "I was impressed by their presentation and touched by their initiative," said Sister Shoulberg.

Working with Mercy Suburban Family Practice Center and Aclamo, a social service agency that serves the Hispanic community in Norristown, Zapalac and crew sorted themselves into teams to organize the event.

One team made goody bags filled with toiletries and accessories; another arranged for a book distribution company to donate books. A third group handled advertising, and a fourth made bead bracelets, which will act as admission tokens. The bracelets were distributed at Aclamo and the health center.

With new and slightly worn clothes donated by Anne's friends, the girls will set up a boutique-style shopping space at the health center waiting room.


  • We served about 260 registered young girls
  • In addition we served older and younger siblings as well as plenty of cousins, Moms and Grandmoms.
  • In total we served at ~ 400 individuals.
  • We left for the Mall with about 120 large bags/boxes.. We returned with ~ 20. We distributed more than 75% of what was donated. (The remaining 20 bags went to Community Housing Services in Landsdale. They work with Women to help them get interviews and get on their feet again.)
  • Many Boxes of items that weren't Mall worthy were donated to other facilities. We will make this an annual event!
  • We are in the process of mentoring 3 other communities to have their own Mall. The 2006 SSIS Program will kick off in March of 2006. “Mall will open in August”

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