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Tuscaloosa women get new clothes from $1 million donation

By Monique Fields

TUSCALOOSA, Ala (Reuters) - Irene Wallace browsed through clothing racks set up in a Tuscaloosa high school gym on Thursday, looking for a new dress, shirts and pants.

"How about this?" another woman asked her, pointing to a short skirt.

"No, I'm a minister's wife," Wallace said.

It wasn't a typical shopping trip. Wallace, who lost everything when an April 27 tornado slammed into her community, was taking part in "Dressing Up Tuscaloosa."

Alfred Dunner, a New York-based clothing firm, made the event possible by donating more than 32,000 new items valued at more than $1 million for women affected by the storm.

Wallace arrived early with a Federal Emergency Management Agency letter in hand and picture ID ready. She was among the first to receive a red ticket, matching her with a personal shopper and the chance to choose eight new items for her wardrobe.

"Oh, I like this," she said, looking at herself in a khaki dress.

That's the kind of response David Aresty, vice president of distribution for Alfred Dunner, said he hoped for when he decided to give Tuscaloosa residents "a little lift."

From his home in Parsippany, New Jersey, he watched in horror what a tornado had done to the city that is home to his alma mater, the University of Alabama.

Neighborhoods and businesses were devastated in Tuscaloosa, and 43 people died.

"It didn't take me very long from 1,200 miles away to get an understanding that you were hurting," Aresty told local women on Thursday as they waited for their turn to shop.

The women were grateful for the help. By noon, more than 1,000 flocked to Central High School.

The school's cheerleaders set the tone with a pep rally.

"Let's go, T-town!" they cheered.

In addition to clothes, Dressing Up Tuscaloosa participants were offered bags filled with toiletries and undergarments. High school girls baby-sat young children for free while mothers shopped or sought on-site counseling.

Some women took only half of what they were allowed, leaving the rest for others who maybe needed it more.

"Even though it's tragedy, I have found out that people have so much love and support for storm victims," Wallace said.

Shirley Billingsley, who lost her home in Holt, said it was wonderful someone from so far away thought about Tuscaloosa.

"This man and his wife have taken into account what God said to do. Whatever you do for the poor, you lend to God," she said, quoting a Bible verse.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)

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