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Dawnetta Heinz was packing boxes, bound for a new home, when she came across her wedding dress.
Just one year prior, the 22-year-old married now husband Jared Heinz, 25, in a ceremony she will never forget.
Many women stow away their dresses as a reminder of their special day, or as a keepsake to pass along to their daughters. Dawnetta isn’t one of those women. She took a decidedly different route and gave her dress to a complete stranger — 12 strangers, to be precise.
“I would like to give my dress away to someone who is on a tight budget and is in need of a dress,” Dawnetta wrote in a post in Omaha, Nebraska’s buy, sell or trade group on Facebook.
Within hours the post had received numerous likes and comments. There was so much interest in the dress, in fact, that Dawnetta made a pitch.
“So many other women were commenting on there, saying they wanted the dress,” Dawnetta told TODAY. “So I had the idea, ‘What if we just passed the dress along to the next bride, so long as it’s still in good shape?’”
The women agreed, and now plan to share the dress with as many brides as possible. As of now, about 12 local women are slated to wear the dress.
Arianna Pro, 27, was the first to claim the dress. She wore it Aug. 23 in San Francisco during a vow renewal ceremony with husband Leif Pro.
“It’s becoming like a sisterhood. We are all forming a chain of forever friendships, especially since it’s all local,” Arianna told TODAY. “I am just really excited to be a part of this.”
Dawnetta’s selfless act came out of her own experience with need. It wasn’t long ago that she was homeless, living out of a car with Jared.
In 2014, she left home, months before graduating from high school. She and Jared struggled to start a company, before ending up homeless for about five months.
“Even though we’ve had a bumpy road, it’s been smooth,” Dawnetta said. “We never once questioned our relationship together.”
After a new business venture took off, their fortunes changed. The couple is now renting to own a home with their 2-year-old daughter, Kamille Heinz.
The women who will wear Dawnetta’s dress share similar stories of sacrifice and love. For that reason, the women liken their situation to “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” And just like in the popular book, the corseted gown, originally purchased from David’s Bridal, seems fit them all perfectly.
“It was super surreal. There were no alterations, it fit so perfectly. Everything fit. The veil, the edges — everything,” Arianna said. “I couldn't have picked a better dress if I had gone dress shopping.”
Arianna never had the opportunity to wear a traditional wedding dress. She married her husband 6 years ago in a dress she bought from Goodwill. At the time, the couple couldn’t care less about the fancy trappings of a wedding. They married to express their love for each other, shortly after Arianna suffered a miscarriage.
“It was a really hard time for us, but we needed a little light in our lives at the time,” Arianna said. “The whole experience really brought us so much closer together, and after a month it made sense to just get married. It wasn't a necessity it was just, ‘I want to spend the rest of my life with this person.’”
When Arianna saw Dawnetta’s dress on Facebook, she jumped at the opportunity to finally wear the wedding dress of her dreams. Surrounded by Lief’s family on a yacht under the Golden Gate Bridge, Arianna renewed her vows in a ceremony she called “perfect.”
Shortly after her vow renewal, Arianna sent the dress to the third bride in line, Valarie Fitzgerald. The 28-year-old wore the dress, without alterations, in her Aug. 28 wedding to fiancee Michael Fitzgerald.
“We live paycheck to paycheck, so there was no way we could find the money to get a dress,” Valarie told TODAY. “But it was very important for us because we waited so long to get married and felt like it was the right time.”
Valarie and Michael have dated since high school and have three children together. The couple had planned a courthouse wedding until Valarie saw Dawnetta’s dress online. Her dress turned yet another couple’s dream into a reality.
“My husband and I have been through it all, so I decided to give back,” Dawnetta said. “Just knowing I could help with something so special was what drew me to do it.”