(INDYSTAR.com) - When Sarah Cummins called off her big wedding in Carmel a week before the ceremony, she and her partner could be forgiven if they wanted to hide from the world.
It was an emotionally charged time, and the last thing they needed was snide commentary from strangers who knew nothing about the situation.
But that's what they got because they chose to make the best of a bad situation by turning what was to be their fancy reception at the Ritz Charles into a lovely dinner for residents of area homeless shelters Saturday evening. And now their story, first reported on IndyStar.com, has been shared around the world.
It's not the first time a wedding has been canceled at the last minute — when it's too late to recoup any of the money paid for venue space, music and dinner. In this case, the groom had footed most of the bill, but he supported Cummins' desire to donate the party to the homeless.
Many walk away from the loss — emotionally and financially — too distraught to do anything more.
Shawn Schilling, senior catering manager for Crystal Catering at the Willows on Westfield, said she's seen only one cancellation recently where it was too late for a couple to get at least a partial refund.
And it was the morning of the wedding.
"It was pretty awful; she didn't have enough time to do anything. She just walked away," Schilling said, though she did ask that any prepared food be donated to a shelter or food pantry.
The first choice Schilling and others would give to someone in a similar situation is to host a party for family and friends if they feel up to it. Or perhaps if there is another event occurring in the next few months, they could transfer at least the deposit and perhaps some of the costs to a future party, she said.
Another idea — if there is enough time — is to donate the party to another couple who maybe can't afford such an extravagant reception.
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Kimble Richardson, licensed mental health counselor for Community Health Network, does not know the couple in this case but said it can be healthy to find a purpose amid sorrow.
"Her failed wedding has served a bigger purpose," he said, "that people can still give in their own sorrow. Don't let the opportunity go to waste if there could be a greater good, something important to that person that could come out of it. So when they think back years later, it can bring them some sort of satisfaction. They won't look back on it as a failure."
If the response around the world is any indicator, this couple's gesture is considered anything but a failure. Here are just a few comments:
"What a wonderful idea! Kudos to you! The homeless in this country are forgotten people and I know that your amazing gesture will not be forgotten by those lucky enough to enjoy it."
"This story made my heart very happy and I wish there were more acts of kindness and heroism out there like this one. I hope you let the bride know that her story has impacted at least one life."
"God bless you for thinking of this idea. Thank you also for generously sharing your story with others. It helps to spark other ideas of ways to make lemonade out of lemons."
At Cummins' request, school buses transported residents of Wheeler Mission, Third Phase Christian Center, Dayspring Center and Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation to Carmel for the multi-course dinner in the elegant venue.
An Indianapolis man, moved by reports of what was planned, organized donations of formal wear and spent the day delivering suits and dresses to shelters.
Maddie LaDow, event planner for the Ritz Charles, watched as guests arrived.
"When I walked into the Garden Pavilion on Saturday and saw the first guests arrive in their donated suits, dress shirts and ties, I was moved to tears," she said. "I was truly in awe at how our community came together to support this great cause on such short notice."
Brian Crispin of Wheeler Mission said the dinner was an "honor" for the men who attended. "The guys really loved hanging out with the family."
Anytime program participants can attend a special event where they are treated with dignity and get a little pampering at the same time goes a long way toward their success, he said. "It’s a day they will never forget."
Cheryl Herzog, development director of Dayspring Center, which serves homeless families in Indianapolis, said Cummins achieved her goal of calling attention to the homeless with the dinner. Herzog has received several calls from new and existing donors, friends and national media, she said.
"The families at Dayspring are strapped with daily challenges just for life's basics," she said. Having the chance to enjoy a gourmet meal in a beautiful place is a special treat — "a chance to exhale, to step away from their circumstances for a few hours."
Richardson said Cummins' situation reminded him of a friend's planned wedding a few years ago. The elegant reception was planned at a Downtown Indianapolis venue, and the groom called the nuptials off a week before — too late to get any money back. In that case, the bride decided to have a party instead, which Richardson attended.
"It was a little sad and awkward at first, but it turned out to be a lot of fun," he said. "I think it helped her to be around other people so she wasn't in sorrow alone."
And it turned out that story had a happy ending. About a year later, the couple reconciled and married in a small ceremony, Richardson said.
Sometimes in today's world of extravagant weddings, the focus may become more about the event and less about what it means, he said. "And people will go through with an event because of the pressure and the finances, even though it might not be for the best."
LaDow said later that she observed the event for quite a while and was amazed by Cummins' positive attitude and composure.
"Although this was not the day she envisioned, I know she will never forget the people she met on Saturday."
For her part, Cummins is content to fade into the background. "The stories have inspired people to donate to the shelters, and I've gotten tons of really nice messages from strangers. That was always the intent: to help, not to hurt."
Want to help?
Homeless shelters in Central Indiana are always in need of donations and volunteers. Learn more at: