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Military brides get free gowns

Published 9:46pm Monday, July 14, 2014

Twenty-seven brides-to-be walked out the door of Maya Couture on Main on Monday with dresses to wear as they walk down the aisle.

The difference between Monday and a normal day at the downtown wedding boutique was that none of the brides paid a cent for her gown.

Jenniffer Borrelli, a sailor stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, tries on wedding gowns at Maya Couture on Main Monday. The boutique gave away more than two dozen free gowns as part of Brides Across America. Store employee Katie Hogge assists her.
Jenniffer Borrelli, a sailor stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, tries on wedding gowns at Maya Couture on Main Monday. The boutique gave away more than two dozen free gowns as part of Brides Across America. Store employee Katie Hogge assists her.

All of them were military members or marrying a military member — and, in some cases, both. The gown giveaway was part of Brides Across America, an initiative to help make planning a wedding easier in the face of deployments and other challenges unique to military families.

“We have lots of happy brides leaving with beautiful gowns,” said Maya Holihan, owner of Maya Couture on Main.

She started the local version of the event about seven years ago at her Norfolk store and brought it to Suffolk this year, the first year the Main Street boutique has been open.

“Being in the largest military market, probably, in the country, I thought, ‘What a great way to say thank you to our service members,’” she said. “Their planning can change in an instant. This is a way to ease some of the other stress they go through.”

Karen Morrell-Fermin, a U.S. Navy member who is stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, had to suppress tears as she took her dress out the door.

“Are you serious?” she said. “This is happening right now?”

She said she learned about the event through an email from Maya Couture after having visited both the Norfolk store and the Suffolk boutique to look at dresses.

Having one of the most important pieces of the wedding ceremony in hand will make planning her April 25 nuptials easier, she said.

“I’ve been so nervous about trying to find a dress,” she said. “Now, I get to put the rest of the wedding together.”

Each of the brides got special attention and assistance from the store’s consultants. A portion of the purchase price for accessories they purchased was donated to the Navy SEAL Foundation, and Simply Susan’s Bakery and Café next door opened its doors especially to provide free lunch for the military members and their families.

Jenniffer Borrelli, also a Navy sailor stationed at Little Creek, is getting married in October.

“I don’t have a budget, and this helps a ton, to find a dress,” she said.

The gowns were donated by Maya Couture, by former brides and by designers, according to manager Misty Prewitt.

Heidi Janson, a Massachusetts bridal salon owner, founded Brides Across America in 2008. In that first year, 50 gowns were given away to military brides. Since then, the program has grown by leaps and bounds — more than 12,000 gowns were donated in 2013.

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