Sarah Cummins was supposed to get married this weekend. The 25-year-old Purdue University pharmacy student had been planning her dream wedding for two years, scrimping and working overtime to save for the $30,000 extravaganza.
A week ago, she called it of - she prefers not to say why - and was left with a broken heart and a non-refundable contract for a venue and a plated dinner for 170 guests Saturday night at the Ritz Charles in Carmel.
"It was really devastating to me," she said. "I called everyone, canceled, apologized, cried, called vendors, cried some more and then I started feeling really sick about just throwing away all the food I ordered for the reception."
Then she decided to bring some purpose to her pain. She worked with event planner Maddie LaDow at the Ritz Charles to rearrange the reception area, then started contacting homeless shelters in Indianapolis and Noblesville and inviting residents to her party.
"We’re doing all the same stuff, just arranging the tables differently, so there's no head table for the bridal party, no cake table or gift table," she said.
She and her mother will arrive early on Saturday to set up the centerpieces they designed themselves — gold Eiffel Tower vases with roses.
The dinner will take place in the hotel's garden pavilion because Cummins said she always wanted an outdoor wedding but didn't want to risk the weather.
On the menu are bourbon-glazed meatballs, goat cheese and roasted garlic bruschetta, chicken breast with artichokes and Chardonnay cream sauce and, yes, wedding cake.
Dayspring Center is among the shelters Cummins contacted, and she gave center development director Cheryl Herzog permission to reach out to IndyStar.
"I was so touched that Sarah had taken a painful experience and turned it into a joyful one for families in need," Herzog said. "It is truly a very kind gesture on her part."
Being homeless is stressful for an entire family, Herzog said. "I suspect having the chance to experience a delicious meal with your family in a beautiful space like the Ritz Charles will be very special for them."
Cummins has arranged for two buses to pick up shelter residents and families late Saturday afternoon to take them to the Ritz Charles. She's hoping for about 150 people, but there's no firm count yet.
Obviously, this isn't the first time weddings have been canceled on short notice, LaDow said. "Some people throw parties, some completely walk away, but none have ever done anything this charitable," she said of Cummins. "It is very honorable of her."
The onetime bride-to-be said she doesn't feel particularly generous.
"I will at least have some kind of happy memory to pull from," she said. "I've worked so many weekends and so much overtime to pay for this, I wanted to make sure it would be the perfect wedding."
And she's still excited to see what it looks like, after two years of planning.
Plus, it's been a nice distraction instead of sitting around crying, she said.
She discussed her plans for what was to be their wedding with her ex-fiance, and she said he agreed that it's better for someone to enjoy the dinner and music they had planned.
If she can keep her emotions in check, she plans to stay for the dinner with her mom and at least two bridesmaids.
When it's over, Cummins said she's leaving on her honeymoon Sunday to the Dominican Republic — alone — before returning for classes at Purdue.
"I'm going by myself. I'm nervous, but I feel like it will be really good strength-building for me. I want that time alone."