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Giving Back On Your Big Day February 17, 2015

So often we hear that the wedding day is "all about the bride." Or that the couple should make sure that they enjoy "their" day. However, many couples are deciding to make their wedding days about more than just themselves. Options abound for ways to use your wedding as a way to give back to the larger community and to share your love story by spreading love in the world.

Requesting Donations in Lieu of Gifts

When Ron and Karen Peters of Paradise, Pa., tied the knot on May 3, 2014, the 400 guests at their outdoor wedding on a farmette near Strasburg, Pa., were treated to unique celebration. "We both had it on our hearts to use our wedding as an opportunity to support other families as we began ours," explained Karen, who teaches kindergarten, while her husband owns an excavating business. "Bringing two households together during this phase of our lives meant we already had the 'usual' wedding registry items. Wanting our celebration to celebrate the One who brought us together, we asked our guests to consider blessing others," Karen continued.

Ron and Karen first met at The Power Youth Center in Strasburg, where Ron is the director and Karen is a regular volunteer. Their shared passion for working with youths led them to use their wedding celebration to raise funds and collect items in support of COBYS Family Services, an organization that was close to both their hearts due to its outreach to troubled youths. In their wedding invitations, Ron and Karen included a note that said, "The couple-to-be asks your 'present' on this special day be wrapped with your smile, full of your friendship, and most of all bursting with praise and prayers. If you feel led to share a gift celebrating this event, we ask that you consider gifting COBYS Family Services. Check out www.cobys.org/help or contact Don Fitzkee at 717-656-6580 for more information. Thank you!"

"Every wedding is a love story," Karen explained. "Our story is based on God's love for us, and out of His everlasting love, we wanted to share with families who are in need of His healing love."

The couple's gesture received very positive feedback from their guests, as evidenced by generous contributions that totaled more than $4,000. Additionally, Karen's 37 kindergarten students - about half of whom attended the wedding - got in on the act by collecting toys, games, baby items, and craft supplies to benefit the children at COBYS. The couple also received many wonderful cards and some traditional wedding gifts as well.

Karen wholeheartedly encourages other brides and grooms to use their big days to support causes that are important to them. "A wedding is a wonderful event to share the spotlight with a worthy organization and to share about a cause close to your heart," she said.

There are nonprofit organizations to suit the interests and passions of any couple. Brides and grooms can choose to foster awareness and raise funds to combat a disease that has touched their families. (American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, The Four Diamonds Fund, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are just a few of the many, many important nonprofit organizations in this category.) Or, couples can collect funds to finance small business loans for entrepreneurs in developing countries through organizations including World Vision Micro and HOPE International. There are also charities devoted to helping individuals in times of crisis, promoting literacy, advocating for children, and many other important causes.

Understanding that shopping for presents can be fun, couples can suggest that guests bring items to donate to a charity, instead of just writing a check. Couples can use their weddings as an opportunity to collect pet care items for animal rescue organizations, nonperishable food items for food banks, personal care items for homeless shelters, or school supplies for children in need. Make sure to provide a list of the items desired with invitations or on a personalized wedding website so guests will see it before the wedding.

Couples may wish to organize their charitable efforts by establishing an online charity registry. The I Do Foundation, a wedding-focused nonprofit that helps individuals make charity a part of their celebrations, allows couples to set up a charity registry so that their guests can make secure online donations to a cause of the couple's choice. Engaged pairs can link to their charity registry from their wedding website. Other websites also offer opportunities to set up wedding registries.

Giving Favors That Give Back

Giving donations instead of gifts can be a two-way street. It's not uncommon for wedding guests to find that the favors they receive at weddings often end up taking up space and collecting dust in their homes, no matter how lovely they are. These guests may happily forgo a physical momento of the day for the knowledge that a donation was made to a good cause in their honor.

Couples can donate a set dollar amount to a charity for each guest, or they can also choose to fund specific gifts in their guests' honor. For example, organizations like Heifer International, Samaritan's Purse, Save the Children, and many others allow donors to give specific items to people in need around the world - everything from hot meals and mosquito nets to livestock and backpacks full of school supplies. Other options include "adopting" animals through one of the many organizations aimed at aiding endangered species. The possibilities are practically infinite, so couples can pick the charity and the items that mean the most to them and to their friends and family members.

If couples simply cannot allow their guests to leave the reception empty-handed, brides and grooms can make a small contribution to the betterment of the environment by giving their guests tree seedlings to plant or packets of wildflowers to grow. (Or, couples can save their guests from having to get out their gardening gloves by arranging to have trees planted in the name of each guest through a nonprofit organization, such as the National Arbor Day Foundation.)

In addition to providing donations in lieu of favors, couples may also wish to consider making donations instead of giving presents to their wedding attendants and family members.

Reusing & Recycling

It's important to keep in mind that a lot of the elements that made your wedding beautiful and special will remain behind after guests leave. There will likely be some leftover food, as well as decorative elements that are left behind. With a little ingenuity, couples can figure out ways to donate or reuse many of these items.

Food: Check with local food banks, food rescue organizations, shelters, and other groups to see if they would be willing to accept donations of leftover food. Some organizations might even be willing to send someone to pick up the leftovers from the reception site. If you can't find a nonprofit organization that can accept your leftovers, you may still be able to help brighten someone's day. Ask family members or friends if they can take the food to their church or office. After all, who doesn't love it when a co-worker shows up with some free cake?

Flowers: Consider donating your attendants' bouquets and floral centerpieces to local hospitals or retirement communities. After serving their purpose of beautifying your big day, your gorgeous floral arrangements may be able to cheer up individuals who are ill, lonely, or just in need of a little dose of beauty.

Other Decorations: Other elements of your decor may also lend themselves to post-wedding donations. For example, if you employ brightly colored children's books to convey your storybook wedding theme or use vintage classic novels to add to the elegance to your reception's decor, consider donating the books to a local school or library after the wedding. There are also many organizations that collect book donations to send to children throughout the world, as well as service personnel serving overseas.

Even strictly decorative items might be of use to someone else. A retirement home with a stretched decoration budget might welcome some lightly used tablecloths or garlands that can liven up parties or events. Plus, many items can be repurposed if people are crafty enough. Local preschools might love a box of colorful leftover paper napkins that children can use for crafts.

And, of course, your opportunities to give back don't have to end with your wedding day. Some couples may be interested in completing a service trip instead of their honeymoon. (Similarly, brides and grooms may wish to consider a mission trip or volunteer day as an alternative to the more traditional pre-wedding celebrations of bachelor/bachelorette parties and wedding showers.) Couples can check with local churches to see if they have any upcoming mission trips planned or volunteer for a work trip through organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, Global Aid Network, or Food for the Poor. Couples who are not ready to commit to taking an entire service-based trip may be able to spend a day or two volunteering, wherever their honeymoon destination.

Opportunities to use your wedding festivities to give back to the community are bountiful, and there are innumerable worthy organizations that would be glad to accept gifts of money, as well as donated items and time. And what better way to share your own personal love story than by spreading the love out into the world?

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