"Since we didn't need anything for our combined household, it seemed logical to request that gifts be made to our favorite charities," said Emily McAlpine, a board trustee at World Neighbors, an Oklahoma City-based charity. The suggestion was a big hit, judging from the long list of donations received by World Neighbors in honor of their recent wedding.
"The gifts have given much happiness to Roy and me," said McAlpine, whose organization works with the rural poor in 18 countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. "We are blessed by the generosity and caring of our friends and family."
Lisa Brown of State College, Pennsylvania, inspired by Mother Teresa's charitable way of life, forewent a fancy wedding gown and a professional photographer so she could personally get in on the giving her October wedding generated. "I've decided to have all the guests at my wedding donate the money they would have spent on gifts to the Missionaries of Charity," she wrote to the organization, which reaches out to the sick and poor in India.
Nationally and worldwide, the trend is growing. Many of the 2.3 million American couples who marry each year prefer to donate money that would have been spent on guest favors or wedding-party gifts to charities needing a hand up. Others are sending leftover reception food to local shelters and food banks.
Another newlywed couple donated their wedding gifts to the India Development & Relief Fund, Inc. (IDRF), an organization working with the needy in India; the money helped pay for a mobile medical clinic. To further their donation of gifts, which topped $20,000, the young couple (not named by IDRF) celebrated their first wedding anniversary by transferring stocks worth $14,600 to the organization, officials said.
Celebrities are giving instead of receiving as well. Singer Celine Dion, a renowned supporter of charities with her husband, Rene Angelil, requested that more than 500 family members and friends write checks to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The couple's wedding gift reportedly totaled $200,000. "I didn't need another iron, and I didn't want their money," said Dion, whose 16-year-old niece Karine Menard died of the disease. "I wanted people to do something that would make them feel good, and I wanted Karine to be a part of the most important day of our lives."
Sylvia Quarles, the 52-year-old who became famous last year for marrying herself, donated a portion of her $25-a-plate reception fees to Interim House, a shelter for abused women and children, and Search for Life, an organization for children's organ donations. Previously married 25 years before in a no-frills ceremony by a justice of the peace, the "bride," who owns the International Wedding Chapel in Southfield, Michigan, told reporters she held her groomless wedding to help women support themselves and raise strong children.
"With half of all the marriages ending in divorce today, I like the idea of giving to charity," said Carl Sampson, who recently moved to Stayton, Oregon, from St. James, Minnesota. "Then my dollars will do some good instead of ending up at some garage sale down the road."
And it's easier these days to give more traditional gifts with a charitable twist. Many Visa, MasterCard, and other charge cards now offer to donate portions of their intake to charities.
Internet communities whose goal is to inspire people to donate to good causes are also growing. Many, including 4Charity.com , a 140-plus store mall that donates a percentage of every purchase to the purchaser's charity of choice, accept Flooz, the online currency. Some organizations provide matching funds to shoppers, who reap tax benefits as well as a more convenient way to shop.
"I think the idea of giving to charities for wedding gifts is a great idea," said Sandra Steffes, a wedding consultant with WeddingNetwork.com. "I plan to suggest it to brides who don't feel a need for a gift registry."