September 15, 2013, was a perfect day for a wedding in Atlanta—sunny and 78 degrees. Tamara Fowler had planned to get married that day. But a month before the nuptials, she had phoned her parents in Roswell, Georgia, to tell them she was calling off the wedding.
Her parents, Willie and Carol Fowler, were “devastated,” Carol says. Why, then, on the same September day, were Willie, Carol, and Tamara eating, drinking, and dancing among hundreds of other revelers at the Villa Christina in Atlanta?
Because when Carol and Willie faced the prospect of losing 75 percent of their deposit at the upscale Italian restaurant they’d booked for their daughter’s reception, Willie had an idea. As Carol started to call the venue to cancel, her husband stopped her. “We’re going to have my birthday party there and invite the homeless as our guests,” Willie said. (His 70th birthday was on September 16.)
So Carol phoned a nonprofit agency and asked it to extend an invitation to local disadvantaged families; all told, 237 men, women, and children showed up.
During a cocktail hour, children played tag on the restaurant’s huge lawn and sipped pink lemonade. On the outdoor patio, adults munched on hors d’oeuvres like coconut shrimp, mini croissants stuffed with chicken salad, and macaroni and cheese shooters. After dinner, they ended the evening dancing in the ballroom. “Our guests told us it was the best meal they’d ever eaten,” says Carol.
At one point, Tamara pulled her mother into a hug, whispering, “I’m glad we were able to help so many people rather than let this go to waste.” Says Carol, “We got more out of this experience than we ever thought we would.”