Homeless Couple Receives $20,000 Wedding Donated by the Community
The most inexpensive part of a wedding is the $93 license, but for this couple, that was more than they could afford.
After having been together for 22 years, the once-homeless couple finally got the wedding of their dreams thanks to a kind-hearted police officer and the support of an entire community.
Officer Daniel McDonald, homeless initiative officer from the Tampa Police Department, told InsideEdition.com he was out in the field when he encountered Evelyn and Rocky Barlett.
McDonald told InsideEdition.com that for three years, the couple had been living in the woods of south Tampa, approximately four or five miles from downtown: "They were pretty self-sufficient. They never asked anyone for anything."
According to the officer, Evelyn and Rocky, both 56, had a multi-function camp set up. One tent was set aside for sleeping, where they had a mattress inside. A separate tent had a makeshift toilet, and another one had a portable shower. They also had a generator, a propane stove, and "everything they needed to be self-sufficient."
"They thought they were going to live out their days in a homeless camp," McDonald said. "They were hoping to get help, but didn't think they would get it."
He asked Evelyn and Rocky to fill out an intake form, where one of the questions asked, "Are you married?" to which they responded, "no".
"I asked them why they weren't married, and they said they couldn't come up with the $93 [to pay for] the marriage license," Officer McDonald said. "I said, 'if that's the only thing that's keeping you from being married, I can organize that.' They've been through a lot of suffering and heartache."
McDonald was then inspired to help the couple organize a small wedding: "I had a budget of $0 because I had no direct funding. If I wanted to put together a wedding, it had to be for free."
Soon after, the story was picked up by local media, and the entire community reached out to pitch in. McDonald told IE.com that they soon had a two page list of vendors willing to donate everything from rings to limousines. Cross Creek Ranch even volunteered to donate their venue, including an all-inclusive wedding.
Videographer James Blankenfeld of Imagery Wedding Films said when he was approached with the idea of shooting the wedding for free, "there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I wanted to help them out and be a part of their day."
"My first impression of them was that it was very clear to see that they loved each other very much," Blankenfeld said. "They were super humble and down to earth. We were all there to give them a great day, but they kept asking us, 'what can we do for you?'"
"With a wedding, no matter who it is, people are nervous and not sure what to expect," said photographer Carrie Wildes, who often works with Cross Creek Ranch. "Other brides have a specific vision, [but] they kind of let everybody handle the process because they didn't know what it would be like at all."
"Some people have made some bad choices, and made some good choices, but haven't had the same chances that other people have," Wildes said.
The couple was joined by friends, and people who had been involved in the process, including other officers in homeless outreach. Evelyn was joined by a bridesmaid, her friend Kassandra Martinie.
"It was a Cinderella wedding," McDonald told IE.com, estimating that the wedding would have cost over $20,000 if it had not been donated. "Their dog, Princess, was the flower girl."
But McDonald's surprises didn't end there. At the rehearsal dinner, he presented Evelyn and Rocky keys to a new apartment.
"My goal was to get them into housing before the wedding," McDonald said.
He explained that the two-floor apartment in north Tampa is part of the Permanent Supportive Housing program, based on the theory that homelessness costs more taxpayer's dollars than a permanent place to live.
They also reached out to Home Makers of Hope, who were able to donate furniture to the Evelyn and Rocky's new home.
After a three-day honeymoon nearby, the couple moved into their new home last week.
According to McDonald, the couple is now doing well. Rocky is still on the hunt for work as a handyman, while Evelyn is determined to learn to use a computer.
"They're happy here, and they really enjoy sleeping in their own bed at night and not having to live in a tent," McDonald said.
The couple even invited McDonald and some friends for a housewarming dinner for some lasagna and salad courtesy of the owners of Cross Creek Ranch.
"It was their first dinner party as a formerly homeless couple and they really enjoyed it," McDonald said.