WESLEY CHAPEL — The huddled masses in sleeping bags and lounge chairs will camp outside the Goodwill Superstore this weekend in search of one thing:
The perfect wedding dress.
The Goodwill on State Road 56 will open at 6 a.m. Saturday for its Wedding Gown Gala, featuring a couple of hundred new designer gowns marked down at least 75 percent. No gown is more than $300, and some will be less than $100.
And, as any bride knows, the only thing better than finding that dream dress is getting it for a steal.
"I see it happen every year," said Michael Ann Harvey, Goodwill's vice president for marketing and public relations. "They cheer for each other as they find their perfect gowns."
The annual event is one of the big fundraisers for Goodwill-Suncoast, supporting its training programs for people who have developmental disabilities.
The dresses are donated by area bridal shops making room for new inventory. They get a tax write-off and the glow of giving back to the community, Harvey said.
About 350 dresses were donated for this year's gala, which spans two days and two stores. The event kicked off at 6 a.m. today at the Goodwill Superstore in Oldsmar. A separate inventory has been set aside for Saturday's sale at the Wesley Chapel location.
Many of the gowns feature elaborate beadwork and trains, and carry well-known formalwear brand names and designer labels, including Demetrios, Justin Alexander, Private Label by G and La Sposa.
In addition to wedding gowns, shoppers will find bridesmaid dresses, bridal shoes, new wedding accessories, attendant gifts and jewelry.
The items from this year's event come from A. Roseman Bridal Party in Largo, Athena's Bridal Boutique in Clearwater, CC's Boutique in St. Petersburg, Diana's Bridal in Tampa, Formal Source in Tampa, Olga's Bridal & Boutique in Tampa and Stella's Bridal & Formal Wear in Tampa.
Publix Super Markets will provide refreshments, and there will be music and prize drawings at both stores.
This is the fourth year Goodwill-Suncoast has held the wedding galas, but the first year for the Wesley Chapel location to participate. Goodwill-Suncoast's retail stores provide more than half of the agency's operating budget and help support its many human service programs.
If the past is any guide, Harvey expects to see about 100 women waiting in line by 5 a.m. Saturday, and closer to 200 when the store opens at 6 a.m.
"I can't tell you what a heartwarming event this is," Harvey said. "On their way out, moms and dads thank us for making their daughters feel so special and for helping them with their wedding budgets."