Michigan business owner Meredith Rogan has found a creative way to support service members.
"When we [would] do the pledge of allegiance or sing the national anthem and there were vets in the audience," she remembered, "I would look at them in awe, like they did something I know I can't do. And I have always been looking for something to do to give back to them."
Rogan co-owns Joy Abendmode Bridal Boutique with her sister Diana in Royal Oak, Michigan. This November, the salon is partnering with Brides Across America (BAA) to give free wedding dresses to military and first responder brides.
"If you are a first responder, if you are a veteran and if you are a spouse of one of these people you are important, and we think that we think that deserves recognition," Rogan said in a local news interview.
Operation Wedding Gown
Founded in 2008, Brides Across America is a nonprofit organization that hosts dozens of "Operation Wedding Gown" events across the country. So far, BAA has matched up 24,000 brides with donated wedding dresses and arranged free weddings for 22 couples.
To participate, either the brides or their fiancés must be military service members, veterans or first responders. BAA caters to those planning weddings within the next year and a half. They also work with couples who were legally married in civil ceremonies and are now planning formal celebrations.
At Operation Wedding Gown events, dresses are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A variety of styles and sizes are available thanks to donations from retailers, designers and individual sponsors, but the boutiques do all they can to help brides find gowns they love.
In July 2019, Something New Boutique in Colorado Springs, Colorado, gave away some 30 wedding gowns valued at $1,000 to $4,000 while Ashley Grace Bridal in Lynchburg, Virginia, had 70 gowns available during their July giveaway.
Military and first responder brides get the VIP treatment
Vera Wang, wedding dress designer to the stars, partnered with BAA on her namesake brand's 30th anniversary in fall 2019. She styled 10 couples and their wedding parties in Vera Wang attire — and gifted the couples jewelry, stationery and bedding from the brand's various product lines.
The designer personally attended all of the fittings and gave brides the full VIP treatment. In interviews with WWD, brides called the experience "surreal" while BAA founder Heidi Janson considered the collaboration "a dream come true, a fairy tale."
"Many military women lose their femininity being consumed by their careers," one giveaway winner's submission noted. "I want her to see that she should be just as passionate about herself as she is with keeping our country safe."
How to partner or participate with Brides Across America
BAA's Operation Wedding Gown giveaway events are held in July and November in honor of Independence Day and Veterans Day, respectively. BAA also hosts events on the first Friday of every month at its headquarters in Andover, Massachusetts.
To participate, couples can find local events and register through BAA's website. The boutiques ask to see proof of service and identification and will then assist brides in choosing a dress from the available selection. There is a tax-deductible registration fee to cover administrative expenses and costs of the event, and dress alterations are covered by the brides themselves.
For those looking to give back, there are a few ways to get involved with Brides Across America. Individuals can donate new and used wedding gowns as long as they're in good condition. BAA also accepts donated rings and jewelry, veils, wedding favors, gift cards and other special occasion gowns. Bridal salons can register to host future events, as well.
Joy Abendmode Bridal Boutique is currently gearing up for three days of appointments with military and first responder brides. "They served us; it's time for us to serve them," Rogan explained.