Two recipients in the Operation Ball Gown project peruse the racks for the perfect dress for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. PHOTO COURTESY MARINE CORPS COMMUNITY SERVICES

More than a third of the 400 dresses collected for distribution at last month’s Operation Ball Gown 2015 came from closets in Bluffton.

The gently used gowns, evening bags, jewelry, shoes and accessories were distributed to military personnel and the spouses of active service members at an event Sept. 22 at Traditions, MCRD Parris Island, as a way to alleviate some of the financial stress of attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball on Nov. 14.

“It can get so pricey for military families,” Ashley McCartney, Family Readiness Program trainer and MCRD volunteer coordinator. “Our main focus is to help the families cut costs.” Operation Ball Gown has been held annually since 2009.

McCartney thanked this year’s supporters Re/Max and K. Hovnanian Homes, who helped get the word out throughout the Lowcountry, resulting in a wide selection for the 170 attendees at Operation Ball Gown. “This year for the first time we even had a gentleman come in and pick something out for his wife who couldn’t attend,” said McCartney.

Jill Anderson, regional marketing manager with K. Hovnanian Homes, said they received close to 150 gowns at Shell Hall in Bluffton, one of five K. Hovnanian communities designated to collect donations. “We hung them in the master closet of the model home,” she said. “Many of the dresses still had (price) tags on them, and some were in the $200 to $300 range.”

Anderson said Sun City and Moss Creek accounted for most of the donations, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Pam Sharkey, a resident of Moss Creek, who sent an email blast to all her friends in Bluffton and Hilton Head.

“I love the idea of supporting the military, and I had an empty spare closet in my house,” Sharkey said.

Sharkey said women brought gowns, dinner dresses, formal wedding and cruise wear, and a few contributed six to eight dresses each. “It was so much fun, we all had a blast doing it,” she said.

Sharkey is telling her snowbird friends who are still up north to bring their ball gowns and party dresses down with them this winter. “So we’re all ready for next year,” she said.

Freelance writer Pam Gallagher was a copy editor at USA Today and a staff writer and fashion editor for the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.