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Natural disasters do not come announced. There is no date circled on the calendar to avoid for a hurricane, and thus, life is jolted to a halt once disaster strikes. This extends to the many couples in the Houston area that spent months, even years, readying themselves for a wedding — only to lose everything.
Hurricane Harvey swept through the city last week, wreaking havoc and leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced and mourning. Many suffered great losses, from material possessions to their homes to loved ones.
But it’s in the rubble of catastrophe that we often find the greatest examples of humanity, and for the brides devastated by Harvey, there was a community hoping to help in any way possible.
/r/weddingplanning, commonly and lovingly referred to as “Weddit,” is a forum Reddit-savvy brides and grooms flock to for camaraderie. Users, hidden behind online handles, band together to provide advice and comfort throughout the often-stressful process of planning their nuptials. In the wake of Harvey, the forum sprang into action to provide something new for its commenters: donated wedding dresses.
Shortly following Harvey’s first impact on Houston, a user posted a new thread simply titled “Dress available for a Harvey bride.” The poster included the dress style and size, and made sure that readers knew she’d be willing to ship it to anyone in need.
As it turned out, the author of the post had survived Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago. Given her past, Jenna — an avid wedditor who got married this past summer — knew immediately how to lend a hand.
“If you’re not familiar with that type of national disaster, if you’re not familiar with what it’s like to evacuate a flood-prone area, then you want to help but you have no idea how,” Jenna said during a phone call. “I was hoping my post would gain momentum. It’s good that other people saw that and were like, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea, I wanna [offer up my dress] too.’”
Jenna’s kindness inspired a ripple effect. Three more brides added to the thread that they had dresses they’d be willing to ship down to Houston brides. This inspired more threads to pop up, even resulting in a pinned “mega-thread” at the top of the page.
Re-selling used wedding dresses is a common practice in the wedding industry, and often rakes in thousands of dollars for those willing to part with their dress. But at the time of publication, over 30 different posters — some with multiple wedding dresses to choose from — had offered to donate and ship their dresses to brides in need for free, along with even more offers for donations of everything from wedding venue decorations to getting-ready robes.
Kelsey — a recent bride from Boulder, Colorado — jumped at the chance to contribute her wedding dress to the to the donation thread as well.
“I can only imagine what these brides are going through, and having one part of their wedding that they don't have to worry about — the dress, in this case — could allow them to focus on other parts of their life,” said Kelsey. “The dress is quite possibly the most emotionally charged piece of clothing most women will ever own; can you imagine losing it to a natural disaster? I'm sure I would be devastated.”
While no one from Reddit has taken Kelsey up on her offer yet, she plans to bring the dress down with her to Lake Jackson, Texas, where she’s headed to participate in on-the-ground volunteer relief work as well. She’d like to deliver the dress directly to an individual, so she’s hoping word of mouth can connect her with a bride in need.
“I think the biggest thing to understand is no one knows what they need yet,” added Jenna, reflecting back on her experience immediately following Katrina. “It’s going to take them a little while to figure it out. Even if they didn’t necessarily lose their dress, they’ve lost so much, and now they still have to think about buying a wedding dress?”
Connie, a Houston-based bride with a wedding in February, has been dealing with the aftermath of Harvey both physically and emotionally.
“It's hard to really put into words how horrifying the last couple of weeks have been,” she said. “I barely got any sleep because I was terrified I'd wake up to a home full of water. I used to sleep really well in rain, but now I'm not sure I ever will again.“
Connie lost her wedding veil to the flooding, and was trapped inside for nearly a week as her family waited for the water to recede from their home. She was stunned when she checked into one of her favorite subreddits and saw the mobilization that was taking place.
“I can't tell you how emotional I was when I saw that post. Maybe it's just been the stress of the last couple of weeks, but the thought of everyone out there generously offering dresses and decoration and all the things that make a wedding easier to affected brides made me cry like a baby.”
On the list of priorities during a natural disaster, material possessions clearly fall toward the bottom. However, it is often the case that in times of need, the seemingly frivolous can serve as a certain reminder of normalcy — the comforting idea that perhaps soon, things will be okay again.
“With wedding planning, even the little things are tied to emotions,” said Kelsey. “I think that's why there's so much support for these affected brides. We want to help alleviate some of the pain and help them get back on their feet. Even in disasters, life still goes on — and so should their weddings.”
The great Houston area is still in need help. If you’d like to find out more about where you can donate to help with disaster relief and recovery, head here.
If you would like to donate a wedding dress or wedding supplies to brides affected by the storm, head here.