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Oct 16, 2012 12:03 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

A Second Life For Wedding Gowns To Help The Retreat

Oct 16, 2012 6:30 PM

This year the Retreat lost a $50,000 state grant for legal advocacy, which was used for things like helping battered spouses get court orders of protection. Heather Dunn-Kostura learned about it at an East Hampton Rotary Club meeting, and swore, “From my mouth to God’s ears, I’m going to raise that money.”

In August she started guest-bartending at the Spring Close restaurant on nights when Mamalee Rose was performing, pulling in about $1,200 for the cause in tips in three three-and-a-half-hour shifts. But the restaurant closed suddenly, and Ms. Dunn-Kostura was already uncomfortable with the idea of selling drinks to help the Retreat.

“Using alcohol to raise money for battered women is just so screwed up,” she said, noting that the abuse of alcohol often leads to physical and verbal abuse.

But that wasn’t going to stop her from trying to reach her goal. Ms. Dunn-Kostura had another idea. Why not sell gently used wedding dresses? “It could be tied in to developing healthy relationships with people,” she reasoned, and provide beautiful gowns to women who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

She’d been offended, she said, by “trash the dress” photo shoots in which brides wreck their gowns by dragging them through mud or the ocean surf and things like that. A Canadian woman drowned in a lake last summer when the dress she was wearing as she posed for a photo shoot pulled her under.

“I found it be so incredibly sad and stupid,” Ms. Dunn-Kostura wrote on her Facebook page, where she’s asking her female friends to donate dresses. “There are so many young women that cannot afford a wedding gown. There are so many charities that could benefit from selling donated gowns.”

Her own wedding dress had stayed on the hanger when she and her husband decided to go with a justice of the peace. Starting with that gown, Ms. Dunn-Kostura’s been collecting dresses to sell at the Retreat’s thrift store at the Bridgehampton Commons. She already has the blessings of Jeffrey Friedman, the shelter’s executive director, and a promise that a portion of the store will be devoted to displaying not only wedding gowns, but also other formal wear like prom dresses.

“We’re very excited about the idea,” Mr. Friedman said. “It’s been a very difficult time.”

Mr. Friedman said that “stress in the home has gone to unprecedented levels” because of the pressures of the weak economy. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook as a result of it,” he said, and the Retreat, which is based in East Hampton, has seen a 96-percent increase in hotline calls over two years.

The intensity of violence has increased as well as the incidence of violence, Mr. Friedman said. “We’re getting people who are just in such distress, like we’ve never seen before.”

Meanwhile, revenues from a variety of sources have been shrinking. Among them is the $50,000 advocacy grant from the state court system, which helped victims make informed decisions in the courtroom and linked them to community resources. “When you’re in the midst of a crisis and you’re going in front of a judge, it can be very intimidating,” Mr. Friedman explained.

“Because we believe it’s so important,” the Retreat continues to provide that kind of support, “but at the same time, kind people like Heather are helping us out,” he said. “The hope is that we’ll get a lot of gently worn wedding and prom dresses, and out of our Bridgehampton store we’ll be able to collect them and sell them for needed funds.”

Donations of formal wear can be made by calling Ms. Dunn-Kostura at 631-907-2723.

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Great job Heather thanks for taking so much of your time to help the community..
By 5-0 (44), Montauk Point on Oct 18, 12 3:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
Of couse this place lost the State Grant. Heather, have you spent any time, like I have, at all with the "poor victims" at this Shelter who are mainly ILLEGALS and/or people with drug/alcohol/attitude problems?? No one would donate here if they really knew what is really going on. Stop spinning your wheels and help some people who deserve you.
By Q333 (161), Southampton on Oct 18, 12 8:16 PM
It's a shame to see something like that posted she does do volunteer work for homeless shelters
By 5-0 (44), Montauk Point on Oct 19, 12 9:04 AM
1 member liked this comment
We had friends whose daughter-in law and son did a "trash the gown" event in Sag Harbor a few years ago; I found the concept offensive and solely a self-serving way to get a second round of attention. Kudos to Heather for helping battered woman, regardless of their nationality.
By SagHarborBob (91), Life is Good on Oct 21, 12 7:48 AM