Live Oak High School Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Coordinator Sue Stapleton on Jan. 20 shows off some of the brand new, never worn dresses donated for students in need of an outfit for the school's upcoming Winter Formal dance. Photo: Michael Moore

Live Oak High School staff are on a mission to make sure all students have something to wear to formal school dances and the prom, and they hope to expand their efforts to other high schools in South County. 

The idea for “The Princess Collection” began when Live Oak Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Coordinator Sue Stapleton and her daughter, Hannah (a LOHS student), were talking recently about the school’s upcoming Winter Formal dance on Jan. 27 in San Jose. They began talking about how students typically wear a prom or formal dress only once. 

“We were talking about upcycling and our conversation evolved to talking about students who couldn’t afford all the things that go with the dance,” such as a dress, shoes, hair, makeup and flowers, Stapleton said. “So between her and I, we decided we should just collect dresses, because we know there are kids everywhere who don’t have the opportunity.” 

After consulting with Live Oak Principal Tanya Calabretta, Stapleton began putting the word out on social media and other contacts that the school was looking for donations of formalwear for teens, or money to purchase such items to give away to students who want to look their best for the upcoming dance. That was only about two weeks ago, and within a few short days Stapleton had collected about 300 brand new or barely used dresses and about 25 pairs of shoes. 

On Jan. 20, Stapleton and Calabretta debuted the collection for Live Oak’s general population in the school theater lobby. Racks full of new dresses were displayed for students to browse, with footwear choices lined up neatly on the lobby desk. Students were invited to try on their choices before taking an outfit home for the upcoming dance. 

The biggest donation to the Princess Collection before Jan. 20 was from the founder of San Jose nonprofit One Heart To Another, who had scores of brand new dresses that had been donated by Macy’s, Stapleton said. These were in turn donated for Live Oak students’ use. 

“We had an overwhelming amount of people donating nice dresses,” Stapleton added. They even received donated jewelry and formal young men’s clothing—the latter of which went quickly. 

Similar programs have been offered in Morgan Hill and other nearby communities, though often on a one-time or irregular basis. Live Oak staff hope to keep the Princess Collection going far beyond the Winter Formal, and to other nearby schools. Any items unselected from the Jan. 20 racks will remain available for students who need clothing for the school’s prom, which is scheduled for April. 

Calabretta noted they also want to expand the offerings to Sobrato High School in north Morgan Hill, which also has a winter formal dance coming up soon, as well as prom in May. They further envision partnering with high schools in Gilroy to include even more South County students as prom season approaches. 

“It could be a traveling collection,” Calabretta suggested. 

Live Oak Principal Tanya Calabretta peruses some of the dresses donated to the school, for students in need of formalwear for the Jan. 27 school dance, or future events. Photo: Michael Moore

And Stapleton added they’re aiming to acquire more slacks, buttoned-down shirts and blazers for prom, “and try to get a cross section of all kinds of clothes for all the kids.”

These plans will rely on continued donations from the community, Stapleton noted. That could even come in the form of partnerships with local businesses or nonprofits. 

“We’re hoping to just keep on collecting and supporting more students,” Stapleton said. 

Taking it a step further, Stapleton envisions partnering with Gavilan College’s cosmetology department or local hair salons to donate stylists’ time for high school dance attendees. 

In a way, the Princess Collection is an extension of a giving, generous atmosphere that school administrators try to encourage among the student body. Calabretta noted that Live Oak has initiatives in place where students, staff or other community members can help kids purchase yearbooks or go on field trips if they can’t afford the costs. 

And for prom season, students in Live Oak’s floral department are encouraged to make corsages and arrangements to share with their classmates before the big night. 

“That’s a nice way of giving back and incorporating learning, while also being supportive of what students need,” Calabretta said. 

How to help

Anyone who wants to donate formal dresses, young men’s clothing or money to the Princess Collection program can contact Live Oak High School Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports Coordinator Sue Stapleton at [email protected]

Pictured are some of the brand new dresses—displayed Jan. 20 for students to choose at Live Oak High School’s theater—that were donated to the Princess Collection. Photo: Michael Moore
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Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.


  1. Do the guys still wear tuxes to the formal dances? I have a black one complete with cumberbund, bow tie, studs, and cuff links. The pants adjust to sizes 33, 34, 35.

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