For two weeks now I’ve had a problem that can only be described as good: drowning in a flood of emails and messages from readers — and not one of them angry.
Hundreds have contacted me in praise of a young woman I wrote about who had no money for a prom dress and so made one out of soda-can tabs.
They’ve asked how to help her, even though many admitted that they’re barely getting by themselves.
Brie Fainblit lives in Palmdale with her disabled mother and her aunt, who shoulders two part-time jobs to support them. Their kitchen shelves are often bare, their fridge is often empty, and sometimes they can’t keep the lights on or the water running.
But they’ve made their home a warm, creative place. They set up craft tables to turn scraps into treasures. Neighborhood kids love to come and join in, even though the conventional creature comforts are few. Whatever Brie’s family scrounges up to eat, they always are ready to share.
One reader said she was a single mother, raising five daughters, including triplets.
“I don’t have much,” she wrote, “but what I do have is the utmost respect for this young lady and the efforts her amazing family is making to provide for her in any way they can.”
Another said she wanted to send “some stuff … because Brie and her family deserve some love … even if it’s from a 21-year-old girl who is a stranger…. I want her to realize that her story made me appreciate the little things. It changed the way I see things now.”
The story was published less than a week before Brie’s prom. People from all over the country wanted to help make that night perfect for the artistic 19-year-old.
They offered to pay for shoes. For hair and makeup appointments. For professional prom photos. For a limo to transport Brie and her boyfriend, James Lawrence, in style.
Quite a few said they wanted the couple to have everything they’d had at their own proms — or that they’d provided for their own children, who some said took good fortune for granted.
“Any way to help her out?” one reader asked about Brie. “I have two children who have no appreciation for what they have and would never have the spirit and creativity of this young woman.”
Brie’s family, James and assorted friends worked for months on the prom dress project. James tutored a fellow student in math to earn the money for prom tickets, which were $110 each. Their effort and resourcefulness resonated with readers.
Some wrote to say they thought Brie and James had great potential, and they wanted to encourage them and help them along. One sent cash and the following note:
“To Brie and James, I read the story of your prom, the dress that you created. Reading the story brought the two of you to my heart. I thought that you are two terrific people and am glad that you found each other. I am enclosing a $20 bill. Please treat yourselves to something sweet, pretty. Best wishes for a happy, healthy future. You deserve it.”
The original story, of course, wasn’t written to solicit donations. It had been prompted by a passionate call from Brie’s mother, B.G. Watson, who told me about the dress that had been in the works since September.
She said she wanted her daughter to get some recognition. She hoped it would make her feel good about herself.
For too long, Watson said, Brie has hidden in the background, self-conscious about her circumstances. Because there is no money for a dentist, for instance, Brie still has a baby tooth wedged in among her big ones. It embarrasses her, so she covers her mouth when she speaks and smiles widely only when no one is looking.
When photographer Katie Falkenberg and I went to meet James, Brie and her family at their home, we found a humble grace — captured in a video in which Brie says: “I don’t really care if we’re poor. If I have to do my homework by candlelight, it’s not a horrible thing. They did it in the olden days. Water and electricity are just like minor things that aren’t really important ’cause we have family and friends.”
When Brie told her classmates about the soda-tab dress, she said, some scoffed and said it sounded stupid.
But that changed after the story came out and they got to see the dress at prom.
Thanks to one generous reader, a driver had picked Brie up a few days before the event and taken her to Los Angeles to choose a pair of shoes, and a stylist had come to her home to do her hair and makeup for the big night. Thanks to another, she and James were driven to and from the school in a silver-and-black Escalade that matched their soda-tab style.
They looked and carried themselves like rock stars. Their classmates formed a circle and the couple danced in the center. Everyone wanted to touch Brie’s dress and pose for photos with her.
Brie wasn’t voted prom queen, but she felt like a princess.
That was the one gift her mother had hoped for.