A typical birthday for most people involves a couple of presents, a few texts from friends, and perhaps culminates in a dessert topped by a lit candle brought into a dim room by a handful of singers.
But Barbie Marcoe, whose birthday happens to be the same day as this interview, isn’t most people.
“We’re expecting 60 high schoolers to be here today, starting in just a few minutes,” she calls out across the room as a volunteer walks through the door on this gray Friday morning. “And I have the perfect job for you!”
Shortly thereafter, the volunteer fulfills her assignment, escorting the first group of teens up the ramp and across the threshold. They have come by van from their respective schools to Lexie’s Prom Boutique, which currently resides on the top floor of Shopper’s Square. Lexie’s Prom Boutique, with its Tiffany blue walls and posh interior, is adorned with retail-style rounds holding a full rainbow of satiny dresses, pressed tuxedo pants and glass shelves displaying trays of shimmering jewelry. All of it is free. All of it is for low-income, disadvantaged youth who never dreamed they could go to prom — let alone try on multiple looks in search of the perfect ensemble.
When Marcoe arrived at the boutique only 45 minutes before the first van arrived, a sunny yellow gift bag declaring “Happy birthday!” in cheery cursive font was sitting just outside the locked door, containing a bud vase with two roses and a sprig of baby’s breath. Next to the bag: A larger bag brimming with high heels, dresses and fancy jewelry. It’s obvious by the way she lifts the gift and admires the bag of donations that both touch her heart equally.
“I love these,” she says.
A few minutes later, volunteer Liz McFarland briskly enters the space carrying two 32-ounce drinks from McDonald’s. “Reinforcements,” she laughs. From the promise of things about to unfold in the small retail space, the caffeine jolt will be a necessity. “Happy birthday,” McFarland quietly says, while Marcoe gratefully accepts the cup of caffeine and returns to her story of how this all came to fruition.
Her story: On Aug. 1, 2016, Marcoe’s daughter Lexie was involved in a fatal car accident. It was one month before Lexie would have turned 30 years old.
An Early Affinity for Giving Back
“When Lexie was little, I was her Girl Scout leader,” Marcoe remembers. “One Christmas, I looked at the girls, and said, ‘All of you girls have such great clothes. Why don’t we adopt a family that has little girls and donate some clothes to them?’”
And donate they did. “All the kids collected their best clothes – they washed them, folded them, put them in pretty boxes and wrapped them. It was magical. And from then on, something changed in Lexie. She was hooked.”
She recalls that from that point forward, Lexie was fixated on donating to those less fortunate.
“It got to the point where we’d have a car full of stuff, and every time we’d see someone who appeared to be homeless, Lexie would tell us to pull over, then she’d get out and motion them over, saying, ‘Look, I have something for you.’”
This desire to give back carried over into Lexie’s adulthood. Even then, Marcoe describes, Lexie was living paycheck to paycheck, “Yet every extra penny she had went to helping people.”
Then came Aug. 1. And in the immediate aftermath, Marcoe went into survival mode.
“I decided to make these bags to hand out to the homeless on her birthday -- which was only one month after she passed -- just to survive,” she says, dabbing at her eyes. “I put out a plea on Facebook, asking my friends to help me build party bags in her memory. The thing is, Lexie always wanted everything to be exact: The bags had to have equal things, like toiletries and socks and shampoo. And we handed them out on her birthday. Trust me, this was an entirely selfish act — I needed to do this. I needed to be close to Lexie. Of course, I’m glad the recipients benefited, but it was all about me and getting by.”
This was just the beginning.
If You Give a Giver a Gift…
“After that, my friends just kept calling, asking if I needed these extra toiletries or these clothes, and so I started collecting. It was a great way to keep busy. Then I started getting calls from different community organizations requesting the goods I was collecting.”
The rest sounds like a philanthropic adaptation of the classic book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Marcoe’s close friends inspired her to start a non-profit, which she called “Lexie’s Gift.” She and those friends, along with a few others, decided to seek grant funding in order to grow, which led to Junior League of Reno and NV Energy awarding them funds to build a tiny house — a traveling boutique where those in need could shop.
But the tiny house was ironically too big to be towed by her Suburban. “So we needed a bigger van,” she laughs.
Another grant was awarded, and they got the van.
And then more funds, by way of personal donations. And then a surprise $10,000 gift from the Terry Lee Wells Foundation. And on and on.
Now Marcoe says she’s beyond thrilled to see Lexie’s name everywhere, in so many different places, all closets of joy helping those in need: Lexie's Traveling Closet; Lexie's Closet at Bristlecone; Lexie's Room at the Shack in conjunction with Project 150; and now, Lexie's Prom Boutique, the latest iteration of Lexie’s legacy of giving back.
“It’s crazy how everything always seems to fall into place. Yesterday, I was sitting here, exhausted — it’s just so much work.” Marcoe says, revealing she’s working 40-60 hours per week at the boutique, while also maintaining her job as a Realtor with Merlion Real Estate (she has been in real estate for the past two decades) while also caring for her family. “And the kids just break your heart, but you can’t step away because you know you’re making a difference, and you’re the person helping them survive. But I’m sitting here wallowing, and I get a call from KOLO saying they have chosen to partner with us, and they’re going to help me get the word out.”
Lexie’s Gift was chosen among many applicants to be one of three KOLO Cares Pillar Partners for 2019.
The Evolution of an Idea
“This place used to be about making people feel pretty,” she says, motioning around the room, which is punctuated by touches of bling and brilliance — sequins dotting the carpet, a “Say Yes to the Dress”-inspired wooden platform that sits in front of a settee and a full-length mirror. “But it has morphed into so much more. It’s not just about pretty outfits — we’re literally helping people get through.”
She recalls a recent guest from the Eddy House. “She hugged me — not just a small hug, but a really, really big one — and she said, ‘Thank you. No one has cared about me in so long, I don’t even know how to tell you how much this means.’ How do you not keep pushing forward when you hear that kind of feedback?”
These are the daily gifts that keep her inspired. And today, on Marcoe's birthday, a young girl with blonde hair emerges from a dressing room wearing a full-length, sparkling black dress with white athletic ankle socks peeking out as she walks toward the mirror. She is accompanied by her grandmother, who hasn’t let go of her granddaughter’s hand. The girl’s grandfather is also there, serving as a chaperone for the van-load of teens from North Valleys High School. This is a CLS class — Comprehensive Life Skills. According to the Washoe County School District website, “Most students in this program are eligible for special education under the category of an intellectual disability.”
Grandpa Alfred smiles as he watches his granddaughter scoot across the floor in her too-long dress, which the grandmother notes can be fixed.
“She doesn’t ever wear a dress,” he smiles sweetly. “This is so good. These kids love being able to shop and pick something pretty out. These kids get left out of a lot of stuff, so we’re so grateful for this opportunity.”
With a nod of agreement, the teen says "yes" to the shiny, glamorous, somewhat-too-long dress. She then proceeds to pick out shoes and jewelry, which she does without expression — but at an almost breathless pace, like if she takes too long, the opportunity will be lost.
The Next Big Ask
The space in Shopper’s Square, unfortunately, is only temporary — they are losing it at the end of February. And Marcoe says she is desperately searching for something permanent.
A recent post on the Lexie’s Gift Facebook page reveals their ultimate “wish list,” a storefront that meets the following criteria:
- must be pretty much free, our budget is $500 a month (including utilities)
- must be a place on the main floor or with an elevator
- must be a place where we can hold a shopping day once a month
- must (and this is a BIGGIE) be a place people can drop donations (Lexie's mama is done with the house and porch that looks like a storage bin, and yes, that's a literal statement.)
- must be available 7 days a week (for volunteer time so Lexie's mama can have easier times setting up the village)
- must be a safe area
- must be 600-+ square feet
Katie Leathers, just one of the many volunteers on this Friday when the school district kids arrive, reiterates the importance of the space — and the initiative as a whole.
“I love to help, and this is where the magic happens,” Leathers says. “You just can’t describe the look they get when they fall in love with the way they look — you know you’re changing their lives, if only for a minute — but probably for far longer.”
Her Circle of Life
After the vans of teens depart, Marcoe stands in a circle surrounded by the day’s volunteers, talking about their joys, frustrations and even some moments of somber perspective. Just a few hours earlier, she had offered the following about what keeps her positive — how she stays happy, despite — or maybe because of — her circumstance.
“I just surround myself with this crazy strong village,” she had said. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it has been to just have someone there to hold me up for two seconds. It may sound silly, but a friend bringing me a stupid Coke at the beginning of a long day can change everything. These are the people who love you unconditionally, and they’re the whole reason I stay positive.”
How You Can Help
- Subscribe to the Lexie’s Gift newsletter for updates.
- Watch their Facebook page.
- Volunteer by calling 775-745-2184.
- Donate clean, modern prom dresses (plus sizes are most needed), tuxedos (no suits), prom shoes (low heels are fine for girls, shiny black for men), jewelry and evening bags.
- Go to smile.amazon.com, click on "supporting" and search for "Lexie’s Gift" to donate a portion of the price of every purchase you make on Amazon.
- Help them find a permanent storefront. Call 775-745-2184 with leads or ideas.