RIPON -- A few months ago, gripped by grief, Melinda Shaw decided she'd create a lasting memory of the daughter who died so tragically last year.
Before 17-year- old Marissa McLeod took her own life Dec. 1, the Ripon High senior had begun collecting dresses for winter formals and proms, to give to girls who otherwise could not afford them.
Shaw decided to continue with her daughter's work through "Marissa's Closet." In February, with help from family members and friends, Shaw set what at the time seemed like an overly ambitious goal: collecting and distributing 700 dresses.
What's happened since has been nothing short of amazing, buoyed by media coverage and the Internet.
Collect 700 dresses? They've gathered more than 3,200.
Distribute 700 dresses? Shaw and her all-volunteer crew have given out more than 1,000, with more proms to come and 1,600 more dresses on the racks ready to go in the former Ripon Drug Store building downtown.
And in doing so, Shaw discovered that with each girl comes a story or circumstance, such as one girl born with a rare genetic disorder. Her ongoing medical bills made it difficult for her family to afford a store-bought dress for her prom. Shaw got an e-mail from the girl's mom, asking if a free dress might be available.
"I e-mailed her back and said, 'Come into the store and we'll make her feel like a queen,' " Shaw said.
"That would be so awesome," the mom replied. "Where are you located? We live in Kansas."
Hmmm ... .
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