PHILADELPHIA -- It's First Holy Communion season.
For months, Catholic children across the Philadelphia region have been preparing to receive, for the first time, the Holy Eucharist, traditionally the third of the faith's seven sacraments and usually dispensed in the spring. The day is often filled with family gatherings, parties, and photos of the new communicants decked out in classic white outfits to mark the special occasion.
But the budget-busting cost of those dresses, veils, suits, and shoes can run into the hundreds of dollars.
Now some area parishes are creating "communion closets," rooms filled with donated communion clothing and accessories that can be borrowed for free. The concept's appeal is about more than saving money, say parents -- it's also about being practical. Why buy something new when you can reuse something that was worn for only a few hours?
"We thought there was an absolute need for this," said Colleen Sharp, 52, the director of parish services at St. Katherine of Sienna Church in Torresdale, who launched its communion closet last year. "We probably have 80 suits and dresses."
The collection outgrew its initial location in the convent and is now housed in the church basement where the clothes are displayed on three large clothing racks. Nearby restrooms -- one for girls and one for boys -- double as changing areas.
Sharp built the inventory by requesting clothing donations from about 10 area parishes, whose members were then invited to participate in the borrowing. The only cost to families? After using the clothing, they're asked to have it professionally dry-cleaned before returning it.
Vicki Kay, a mother of three in Holmesburg, decided to check out the inventory before heading to a retail store with her son, Dominic, 10, to buy him a communion suit.
"I feel like it's senseless to spend $40 to $50, and my other son," who's 7, "might not be able to wear it," said Kay, recalling her own First Communion and how she ripped the lace on her dress at the party after the ceremony.
Dominic was pushing for a blue suit, but Kay -- a traditionalist when it comes to First Communion outfits -- wouldn't have it. It had to be white.