You Can Change the World With Your Wedding
You can have the day of your dreams while giving back –– and it's easier than you might think.
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photos by Sandrachile
At one wedding or another, you’ve likely found a small note beside your placesetting: “In lieu of favors, the happy couple has opted to donate to a charity of their choice,” it reads.
More and more, brides and grooms are choosing to donate the money they would have spent on a trinket to a cause they care about. Perhaps a mother or grandmother passed away from breast cancer and they’ve chosen to support Susan G. Komen. Perhaps they’re longtime volunteers with a local organization and want their guests to learn more about something that’s important to them.
Many couples, however, find ways to incorporate charity into all aspects of their day. Some donate food, flowers or even their dress (after all, are you ever going to wear it again?). Some make it a priority to patronize local vendors, supporting small businesses and minimizing their carbon footprint. Still others donate the money from their “dollar dance” or work with vendors who will donate some of their proceeds to charity.
Sarah Coghlan and Don Rugh, who married on Aug. 20, 2016, incorporated many local vendors into their wedding to support Pittsburgh businesses.
“I think the idea of donations in lieu of favors has always been around, but I think people are getting more creative,” says Christine Chadwick LeDonne, a partner at Poppy Events wedding planners in Fox Chapel.
“You’ll see a lot of nonprofits joining with designers. The HollyRod Foundation, they have Shop for a Cause where you can give a donation for your wedding or event and they provide you with bracelets or charm bracelets you can give your guests … You still do the donation but your guests feel like they get to be a part of it.
“A lot of girls, instead of having bachelorette parties they’re coming up with ways to volunteer. Instead of Vegas, they’re heading to a food bank.
“You turn something that could be so self-absorbed into the complete opposite.”
Sandra Villarroel, who owns local photography company Sandrachile, has built her business around the idea of using weddings as a tool to produce social change. She works with couples to help them find a way to do something good with their day, and she offers a discount to a couple if they make a donation to a charity themselves.
“There’s so much you can do to use your wedding to give back — to use your wedding to empower others,” she says.
“When I decided to become a photographer, I wanted to do weddings, but I had an issue in my heart,” she says, noting the wedding industry is a $56 billion industry; that’s a lot of money that could go to those in need. “I started … slowly introducing my couples to using their wedding day to be about something more than a wedding.”
Villarroel says part of her philosophy comes from the fact that she’s a Christian and says she wants to live her life purposefully; the other part is because she’s from Chile, where she grew up around poverty, even temporarily facing homelessness herself.
She won’t say that she only works with couples who agree to give back in some way, but she makes sure clients understand her perspective from the first meeting.
“When they hire me and we have a consultation, they know what they’re getting into,” she says. “Not everybody is comfortable with donating to charity, but there are many ways to produce social change with a wedding. From being eco-friendly, or sourcing everything local (as opposed to big chains) to signing up for a charitable registry oriented to giving back like Heartful.ly.
“All people who do work with me are interested one way or another in changing the world.”
Villarroel has also personally delivered leftover food from a couple’s reception to local homeless people on the street.
Some brides and grooms contact 412 Food Rescue, an organization founded two years ago by Gisele Fetterman and Leah Lizarondo, which connects volunteers who transport food to those in need via an app.
Chadwick LeDonne says more and more caterers are connecting with 412 Food Rescue and similar organizations.
“They’ll handle all of the transporting and making sure it goes to where it’s needed,” she says. “That’s the hard part — I think people really want to donate their food but they don’t know how.”
For her own wedding last spring, Chadwick LeDonne made a donation to Autism Connection of PA in lieu of favors, in honor of her autistic son.
“Anytime I have an opportunity to share some love or throw some love their way, that’s usually the direction I go,” she says.