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Hosts of a cancelled wedding donated an elaborate reception to Atlanta’s homeless last Sunday.
Carol and Willie Fowler teamed up with Hosea Feed the Hungry, a local organization serving families in need, to turn the wedding-that-wasn’t into the first annual Fowler Family Celebration of Love, feeding 200 unexpected guests.
“We’re very pleased that she’s handling it so well,” Carol Fowler told Here & Now about her daughter. “She was also very delighted to see and know that others had an opportunity to enjoy something, rather than just allow it to go to waste.”
Elizabeth Omilami, head of Hosea Feed the Hungry, told Here & Now that the children who attended the event will never forget it.
“The passed hors d’oeuvre were very interesting because the children were wondering, ‘could we take the whole tray, or do we just take one off of the tray?’” Omilami said. “So this was an educational opportunity as well, because now they all know how to eat at a four-course meal and the etiquette involved in that.”
Fowler had this message for other families:
“Events are canceled, and sometimes for unknown reasons. Do no allow that opportunity to go to waste. Call up your favorite charity. Give them an opportunity to use that for people that will not have an opportunity, perhaps in life.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
And when we were in Atlanta earlier this week, a story caught our eye. It started as a nightmare. A family had invested thousands in a wedding - dinner for 200 at the Villa Christina restaurant, complete with gold plates, crystal glasses. Then something went wrong; the wedding was called off. What to do? Well, the family decided to give the reception to the homeless.
The Fowler family of Atlanta donated their reception to groups like Hosea Feed the Hungry and Mary Hall Freedom House. They were the recipients. Joining us from the studios of WABE in Atlanta are Carol Fowler, one of the hosts. Welcome.
CAROL FOWLER: Thank you.
YOUNG: And Elisabeth Omilami. She's with Hosea Feed the Hungry. Elisabeth, welcome to you as well.
ELISABETH OMILAMI: Thank you so much.
YOUNG: And Carol, we don't want to pry, but we know that it was your daughter, Tamara, who actually went to the reception that is now - that was now for the homeless in the Atlanta area - who was part of a wedding that was called off. Was this a shock to you, the parent, when this happened?
FOWLER: Yes, we were surprised, and we're very pleased that she's handling it so well.
YOUNG: I should say so. I mean, going to...
FOWLER: Yes, indeed.
YOUNG: Going to the reception that was going to be for her, and now it's for 200 strangers.
FOWLER: Yes, and she was also very delighted to see and know that others had an opportunity to enjoy something rather than just allow it to go to waste.
YOUNG: Well, but here you are, the parent, and along with your husband, Willie Fowler, I only imagine this was costing thousands. You had 200 guests, beautiful place settings; it just seemed like a wonderful hall. You could've had 200 of your friends. You could've had the friends who were invited still come, and feed them. When was the decision made to give this meal to the homeless?
FOWLER: Forty days prior to the wedding, when we were made aware that there would no longer be a wedding, it was my husband's idea. We prayed about it. And when he woke up the next morning, he said, we're going to call Hosea Feed the Hungry, and ask if we can donate it to the needy. I immediately looked up the number and called, and spoke with Mrs. Elisabeth Omilami. And in doing so, we partnered. And it was such a wonderful feeling just to partner with them.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, I want to bring Elisabeth in. Elisabeth, what happens when you get that phone call from the Fowlers saying, we'd like to give you our reception for 200?
OMILAMI: At first, I thought it was a prank call because it was such an amazing offering. And then she said she wanted to focus on women and families, that she wanted to focus on children - which 70 percent of the homeless in Atlanta are children. And so we had an opportunity to go out and look for places like the Nicholas House and Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, as well as Mary Hall Freedom House. We'd called them all. We said, the Fowler family is going to have a party for you! Then they said, what do you mean? Then we said, it's just for you. There's no cost. All you have to do is get there. They never would've - we were talking about which fork to use.
OMILAMI: And we would try to teach the children about the etiquette of sitting at a formal table setting. So it was just an exciting day, and example of how we can address the issues of homelessness across the country.
YOUNG: Elisabeth, tell us more about the actual meal. You mentioned the forks - probably three, you know, and then a couple of spoons. And I mentioned, this is at the Villa Christina, beautiful settings, sweet tea lemonade, hors d'oeuvres.
OMILAMI: Four glasses.
YOUNG: Four glasses, which...
OMILAMI: Yes. Four glasses...
YOUNG: For a lot of people is...
OMILAMI: And a wonderful - passed hors d'oeuvres, and then a wonderful four-course meal as well as dessert. The passed hors d'oeuvres were very interesting because the children were wondering, could we take the whole tray or do we just take one off of the tray?
OMILAMI: So this was an educational opportunity as well because now, they all know how to eat at a four-course meal, and the etiquette involved in that.
YOUNG: That's Elisabeth Omilami of Hosea Feed the Hungry. It's a homeless organization in the Atlanta area. They were the beneficiary of an incredible gift from the Fowler family. We're speaking with Carol Fowler. She was supposed to be the mother of the bride. You're listening to HERE AND NOW.
Well, so here you have this event just this past Sunday. We understand you renamed it from Tamara's wedding to the First Annual Fowler Family Celebration of Love.
OMILAMI: Yes, and I got that from Mr. Fowler because it was his birthday. It was his 70th birthday, and he could have had his own birthday party, but he got up and he talked about what it meant to be a real man. And he talked about the commitment to the community, as a real man. And after I heard him speak, I realized that this was a celebration of love - love between Carol and Willie and the Fowler family, their love for the poor, and Hosea Feed the Hungry's love for the 61,000 people we serve per year.
YOUNG: OK. So it's been renamed the First Annual Fowler Family Celebration of Love.
YOUNG: Will there be another one, Carol?
FOWLER: We would love it to happen, and we will start working on it immediately. What we would like to do is look for sponsors, to have a larger gathering.
YOUNG: Well, and I'm wondering, too, you might also get the word out that if others have, I mean, weddings get canceled. Thousands of them get canceled every year.
FOWLER: Yes. Mm-hmm.
YOUNG: We did a story about a website where you can resell your wedding, but what an idea to maybe give it away. And I'm sure there was a little - perhaps a tax write-off; not that that's why you would ever do it.
OMILAMI: The difference in selling your wedding and giving it away, as the Fowlers did, is that these children will never forget what they experienced - for the rest of their lives.
OMILAMI: We had a face painting there. We had 16 different - the entertainment for the children, 16 different acts. And then the inspirational teaching that we got to pour into them to let them know, your beginning does not determine your destiny.
FOWLER: Exactly. That is not our main focus - a tax write-off - because if we're able just to save one child in that group and have them soar to the heights of corporate America, we will have won.
YOUNG: Well, and I'm thinking, too, Carol Fowler, something Elisabeth just said - that the message that came from your husband and others to these kids was, your beginning is not your destiny - I'm wondering if that's a message for your daughter Tamara as well.
FOWLER: I'm certain it is. As I indicated and stated previously, she is handling it very well. There is no empathy or pity to be given. She is a young, educated, black woman with many opportunities.
YOUNG: Well, in the picture that I'm looking at in the Atlanta Constitution as she greets her guests at what was going to be her wedding, she looks pretty happy.
FOWLER: She is...
OMILAMI: And she was.
FOWLER: There's a message I would like to leave with the public, and that is: Events are canceled and sometimes, for unknown reasons. Do not allow that opportunity to go to waste. Call up your favorite charity. Give them an opportunity to use that for people that will not have an opportunity, perhaps, in life.
YOUNG: That's Carol Fowler. She was to be the mother of the bride. But when a wedding was canceled, the family decided to give it to the homeless. We've also been speaking with Elisabeth Omilami of Hosea Feed the Hungry, the homeless organization in the Atlanta area that was one of the recipients of the Fowler family's generosity. Thank you both.
FOWLER: You're welcome.
OMILAMI: Thank you, Robin.
FOWLER: Thank you, Robin.
YOUNG: To heck with that guy!
FOWLER: She is not marred by it, in the least.
OMILAMI: ...missed a beat.
YOUNG: Sorry, a little editorializing there. From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW.
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