HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a press release from the University of Southern Mississippi:
As Halloween approaches many people already are planning a unique and fun costume for the holiday. Kelsey Meeks, founder of 'WEEN DREAM, is seeing to it that children all over the country get the opportunity to dress up and celebrate.
Meeks, a native of Pensacola, Fla., graduated from The University of Southern Mississippi in 2005 with a degree in broadcast journalism and Spanish. Following graduation she moved to New Orleans where she earned a degree from Tulane Law School in 2010. Today she resides in New Orleans and works with Wall, Bullington & Cook, LLC, an oil and gas boutique firm.
It was during her law school days that Meeks was hit with the realization that people had many old costumes collecting dust in their closets, while others would love to have their own costumes, but could not afford them. This thought led to the creation of 'WEEN DREAM, a national non-profit organization that collects costume donations and delivers them to children living in poverty, facing illnesses and those affected by natural disasters all across the U.S.
"Every other day of the year may be out of their control, but Halloween belongs to kids," Meeks said. "It's the one special day when they can be whoever or whatever they want."
She said 'WEEN DREAM helps kids put aside tough times at home -- like financial troubles or serious illnesses, to have fun in the community on Halloween. Hundreds of costumes will be delivered by mid-October. She estimates that more than 1,000 children need costumes this year, and 'WEEN DREAM is seeking a match for each child.
Rebecca Roten, a fellow Southern Miss alum, said she was excited and happy to learn about 'WEEN DREAM when her 6-year-old daughter, Ava, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer in October 2012. She said since that time her role as a mother has changed, leaving little time for "normal" things, such as Halloween costume shopping.
"When the box was delivered to our door, the kids could not wait to see their costumes and wear them," Roten said. "I am so thankful to organizations like 'WEEN DREAM who understand the struggle of having a child with a life-threatening illness and are willing to help families make wonderful memories together. I can now continue focusing on my daughter's health and my kids get to have the best Halloween possible."
Throughout the year, people donate gently used costumes and workers at 'WEEN DREAM inspect, sort, label, catalog and store the costumes so they can be distributed the following October. When the Halloween season begins, the donated costumes are matched with children in need.
If there is not an appropriate donated costume match for a child, or if the child requires a different costume for medical reasons, 'WEEN DREAM publicly requests a donor for a new Halloween costume for that child. Meeks said it resembles an "angel tree," except for Halloween. She calls it the "Pumpkin Patch."
Because costumes are distributed to children across the country in large numbers, Meeks said she does not get to be there for a majority of the moments when children receive their costumes. But this year she is looking forward to being able to physically distribute costumes to a group of children at a local shelter in New Orleans.
"I've gotten to give costumes directly to the kids at (Youth Empowerment Program) for the past two years, but my volunteers haven't ever done this before," Meeks said. "So I can't wait for them to see how amazing it is to give one of these special kids his or her very own costume."
Although the organization is based in New Orleans, Meeks founded 'WEEN DREAM with the intention of creating a program that would allow people across America to set up something similar in their own hometowns. She said they will begin with pilot charter programs in a few cities in the southeast.
As an all-volunteer organization, many of the directors hold non-Halloween jobs during the day, dedicating four to five hours a day and 15-plus hours on the weekends to 'WEEN DREAM.
Meeks said the joy of giving costumes to children living in poverty or battling health problems is unlike anything else and calls the experience addicting. To Meeks, nothing is better than seeing how excited the children are to receive their costumes.
"Does it help families escape poverty? No. Does it help find a cure for a little girl's brain cancer? No," Meeks said. "But while I am so thankful that there are thousands of excellent nonprofits working to end children living in poverty and cure their life-threatening illnesses, I've found that I can do the most good by sharing my love of Halloween with these special children."
Many donors give to 'WEEN DREAM with the hopes of impacting specific families.
One donor contacted Meeks to say she was sponsoring two kids with special needs and who are also in wheelchairs. She said she wanted to help those particular girls because her son also has special needs and is in a wheelchair.
"She wrote that Halloween is 'the one day where people look past his disability' and see him for the awesome little boy he is," Meeks said. "I thought that was such a great point, and while it's especially true for children with special needs or disabilities, the principle applies to all kids on Halloween because they can be whoever or whatever they want for that one special day. It's a great feeling to make that happen for them."
Another donor told Meeks she applied for a costume for her child because at the time she was unemployed and knew she would not be able to buy a costume this year, but then she got a new job and now she is sponsoring a child that did not have a donated costume match.
'WEEN DREAM's work does not end in October. The organization hosts The Mortuary Haunted House in New Orleans on March 28. The event is what Meeks calls a "real party" with a band and dancing – no sit-down dinner, no speeches.
"We can't do a Halloween party during October because we're too busy doing the costumes. But this is even better because we'll get to celebrate Halloween twice a year," Meeks said.
Meeks hopes to reach more children all over America as 'WEEN DREAM expands and more people are impacted by costume donations.
"That's something I find myself saying over and over, 'I'm doing the best I can this year, and I'll do even more next Halloween,' " Meeks said. "Because you want to help a million kids, but it's just not possible for us. Yet."
To learn more about the 'WEEN DREAM project, visit: http://www.weendream.org