- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2006

When Aakash Thakkar and Christina Giallourakis got married in May, about 250 guests celebrated with the Northwest Washington couple.

Only about half of them sent gifts. It wasn’t a social fax pas, however, it was by the couple’s request.

Mr. Thakkar, 31, and Ms. Giallourakis, 30, asked that instead of the usual wedding presents, friends and family mark the occasion by donating to a scholarship fund set up by the couple at Mr. Thakkar’s alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington.

“We looked at the wedding as a perfect opportunity to give back to the community,” Mr. Thakkar says. “We did have a registry of gifts, but the message was, we didn’t need another frying pan.”

The couple made it easier to contribute by organizing online donations through the I Do Foundation (www.idofoundation.org), a Washington-based nonprofit aimed at incorporating a charitable component as part of a wedding plan.

The bride and groom helped raise about $9,000 for the scholarship fund. They hope to add to it every year to mark other special occasions.

“I can see this becoming trendy,” Mr. Thakkar says, “as couples see other couples who are not just focused on two people, but focusing on something bigger and more important.”

Sure, everyone kn0ows a “Bridezilla” who demands Waterford crystal and a half-dozen showers in her honor. Nevertheless, socially conscious brides — and grooms — definitely are out there, says Bethany Robertson, executive director of the I Do Foundation.

About 200,000 couples added some sort of charitable component to their wedding last year, she says.

“We like to say, ‘You can have your wedding cake and share it too,’” Ms. Robertson says. “It’s all about helping people and still having the wedding you want.”

The I Do Foundation offers one-stop shopping, which is a big plus for anyone who has ever planned a wedding, with innumerable errands and lists of things to do.

Through the I Do Foundation, couples can, among other things, create a wedding Web site to communicate with guests about the big day or start a charity registry so guests can make online donations to a selected organization, such as Mr. Thakkar and Ms. Giallourakis’ scholarship fund.

They also can link a gift registry through the I Do Foundation. For instance, if a guest buys a vase through Macys.com, 4 percent of the price will be donated to the couple’s selected nonprofit.

Couples even can purchase a honeymoon package at Sandals Resorts and arrange for a percentage of the price to be donated.

Seth Price and Jodi Segal of Chevy Chase were married yesterday at the Mayflower Hotel in Northwest. They planned for a traditional soiree — 200 guests in black tie, five bridesmaids and a honeymoon in Hawaii.

As they made the plans — and watched the expenses rise — they felt it was important to give back. In lieu of giving party favors, the couple is making a donation to the KIPP Foundation Charter Schools in Baltimore and Washington and to the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, causes that are important to them, Mr. Price says.

“No one is going to miss having a party favor,” he says.

The couple also has linked their gift registry to the I Do Foundation, so donations will be made every time a guest purchases a present.

Says Mrs. Price: “Obviously, we know weddings are a big expense. It seemed important to give back.”

Another popular option for thoughtful brides is the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation. Brides Against Breast Cancer, the Portland, Ore., nonprofit’s fundraising arm, collects and sells wedding gowns. The proceeds are used to grant wishes for women with advanced cases of the disease.

Fran Hansen founded Making Memories (www.making memories.org) in 1997. She estimates she has collected 250,000 gowns and granted wishes that involve more than 1,000 people.

“I have learned that women in this country are the kindest,” Ms. Hansen says. “People may not have money, but they will send you their dress to make someone’s dream come true. There were 25 million weddings in this country in the last 10 years. That is a lot of gowns that are in boxes under people’s beds.”

Ms. Hansen thought she would receive mostly dresses from divorced women wanting to clear out their wedding dresses along with their bad memories. She was surprised to see how many women wanted to pass on their happy mementos.

“I get letters saying, ‘I am married to my best friend. I want this dress to help someone,’” Ms. Hansen says.

Making Memories offers instructions on how to clean, box and ship dresses to its headquarters. The dresses are sold at big sales around the country. The group traditionally holds its Baltimore and Washington events in the fall.

Some charitable couples are seeking nonprofit groups to help with the actual wedding. D.C. Central Kitchen (www.dccentralkitchen.org), the Washington group that provides meals and culinary training to homeless and other disadvantaged people, also runs Fresh Start Catering.

Fresh Start employs graduates of D.C. Central Kitchen’s culinary training program. The company can make everything from box lunches for an office meeting to fancy finger foods for a gala, director Emily Carlos says.

Fifteen weddings already are on Fresh Start’s books for this year, Ms. Carlos says. Many couples like the idea of giving back to the community by providing jobs for those who have been homeless, she adds.

“Fresh Start completes the cycle of training to job placement,” Ms. Carlos says. “Some people who come to us for wedding catering have worked in our kitchen as volunteers. We can do it all — provide waiters, rent china. We can make it fancy. We can do canapes and Peking duck.”

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