tampabay.com

Charity's sale fit to make memories

Wedding gowns, valued up to $5,000, will be sold today and Saturday to raise money to fulfill cancer patients' wishes.

By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
Published March 25, 2005


TAMPA - The 26-year-old woman was dying of breast cancer.

She called a nonprofit organization and asked for a video camera.

For months, she recorded messages to her daughters, ages 4 and 1.

She told them how beautiful they looked in their prom dresses. She said she was so proud of them for graduating from college. She told her grandchildren how precious they were and she was so sorry she couldn't be there to raise them.

Eight months after receiving the video camera, and two days before her younger daughter's second birthday, she died.

The video camera turned out to be a treasured gift.

"You cannot put a price on the messages she left behind for her little girls," said the nonprofit group's co-founder, Fran Hansen.

Since 1999, Hansen's organization, the Portland-based Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation, has been fulfilling wishes for breast cancer patients throughout the United States and Canada through the sales of donated wedding dresses.

Today and Saturday, the foundation stops in Tampa where 1,500 new and gently used wedding dresses will go on sale at deeply discounted prices.

A ballroom at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino will host the sea of white and ivory and river of beads, sequins and lace. The wedding dresses, valued up to $5,000, will be sold for between $49 to $599.

Since July 1999, Making Memories has granted hundreds of wishes, from the video recorder to family trips to Disney World. One woman got to see Oregon's lighthouses. Another celebrated a second honeymoon in Hawaii. And another got her book published.

The traveling dress sale, which will stop in more than 50 cities this year, was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah donated a quarter million dollars in wedding dresses.

Hansen said about 14,000 dresses have been donated so far - more than half are new items from bridal shops and factories - and about 6,000 have been sold.

Even damaged gowns are accepted. The ones that can't be sold will be made into quilts, which sell for at least $2,000.

The site of the sale will also be a drop off spot for the tax-deductible donations, she said. Hansen, 55, owned bridal shops in the Northeast for 27 years. She got out of the business, but soon started this charitable endeavor after two health scares.

Twice doctors told her she might have breast cancer. The mother of four grown children researched on the Internet. Finding support was not difficult.

Today, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, she said. This year alone, 200,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed, and 40,000 will die.

While it turned out she did not have the disease, Hansen was touched by the messages she read from breast cancer patients, including one from a woman who said her husband had just lost his job and they had no money to buy Christmas presents for their children. The woman wanted to die so that medical bills would stop mounting and her family could move on.

Soon after, Hansen had a dream about building a charity through wedding gowns. With her daughter's support, they created Making Memories.

"Brides can come find the gown of their dreams while at the same time, make wishes and dreams come true for those whose lives have been cut short," Hansen said. "You can't put a price on that."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at nguyen@sptimes.com or 813 226-3403.

IF YOU GO

The Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation's charity wedding gown sale will be today from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 5223 Orient Road. Admission is free.