Sep. 23, 2013 at 6:14 PM ET
Carol and Willie Fowler had planned an elaborate, sophisticated wedding reception for their daughter, only to have it canceled six weeks before the ceremony. So the Atlanta couple turned their heartbreak into an occasion for celebration — throwing a party for more than 200 homeless people instead.
“My husband actually prayed about it,” Carol Fowler said. “The next morning he woke, I was in the process of canceling the venue, letting them know that we had no use for it, and he said, ‘No, we’re going to call "Hosea Feed the Hungry" and have them round up people from the shelters.'”
Fowler said she loved the idea, especially since “we were going to spend this money anyway" with only 40 days left before the Sept. 15 ceremony.
Neither of the Fowlers had worked with "Hosea Feed the Hungry" before but knew about the organization because both of their children — their daughter, Tamara, and their son — had volunteered for the Atlanta-based nonprofit group.
“At first I thought it was a prank call. I thought somebody was joking with us,” recalled Elizabeth Omilami, the charity’s chief executive office.
But she quickly realized that the Fowlers were for real — and started working to meet their wishes of gathering 200 people, preferably women with children, for a full sit-down meal at a swanky local restaurant.
“We didn’t get any cash out of it, but people found out that somebody cares about them and that’s worth more than any cash we could have given them,” she said.
Omilami arranged to have buses transport residents from three area shelters to the restaurant for the afternoon celebration. Guests were greeted with glass tumblers of punch and lemonade and plated hors d’oeuvres of beef tenderloin kabob, coconut shrimp and, for the kids, mac ’n cheese shooters.
Children were greeted by a clown, juggler and face painter. They later were served their own special meals of chicken fingers, French fries and fresh fruit in a room separate from the adults, who sat down to a meal of salmon and chicken.
“The feeling was one you cannot explain, to see the faces and hear their thank you’s,” Fowler said of the guests. Her entire family attended the celebration, including her husband, children and her grandchildren.
Fowler, who declined to comment on why the wedding was canceled, said her daughter found the experience “surreal but incredibly rewarding.” What made it all the more special was the fact that the party fell on the day before the 70th birthday of Fowler’s husband.
“In lieu of having all of our friends, and we could have packed the place with just our friends, he opted to have people from shelters be our guests,” he said.
Julie Bilecky, sales and marketing director of the party’s venue, Villa Christina, called the event “awesome.”
“What a way to make lemonade out of lemons,” she said. “Carol and Bill did a phenomenal job of giving back to the community. It could have been difficult situation but everyone worked together to make it a different kind of party. It was fabulous.”
The event turned out so great that the Fowlers hope to hold a similar opportunity annually and already have started thinking about sponsors for next year.
“We feel that this is something that God would like us to do because obviously, we did not set out to do this,” she said.