Maria Ocegueda comes from a family of six.  She says her father mows lawns for a living and makes little money. “My dad can barely pay the bills. I knew I couldn’t ask for a new dress,” says the 18-year-old. Getting a free prom dress not only helps me, but also other girls who can’t afford to pay.”

Maria’s reality, like that of other program participants, is far different from the one portrayed in a recent Visa prom study, which showed that American families will spend more than $1,000 on prom on average, despite a still sluggish economy. That cost of $1,078—and almost twice that in the Northeast—is a 33.6% increase over the $807 spent in 2011. The study revealed that families with less income tend to spend the most, with those making less than $20,000 a year spending an average of $1,200 and those earning between $20,000 and $29,999 spending of $2,635. By comparison, those making more than $75,000 a year planned to spend an average of $842.