On April 1 homeless couple Evelyn and Rocky Barlett married in a wedding they never dreamed would come true, afterwards returning home to new permanent housing thanks to Officer Dan McDonald, the Cross Creek Ranch, and their Florida community’s kindness. In exclusive interviews with The Knot, McDonald and the couple’s wedding photographer Carrie Wildes shared just how the stunning celebration came together.
After learning from the couple that they had been together 22 years but never married because of the $93.50 marriage license fees, Officer McDonald the Tampa Police Department pooled his resources to initiate donations for the marriage license fee and a small wedding for the Barletts. But as their story spread through the community’s news outlets and networks, the wedding grew and grew.
With his full-time assignment working on homeless outreach McDonald told The Knot, “I do whatever it takes to get the homeless off the street into permanent housing.” Without direct funding he said that after hearing the Barlett’s predicament he took to his network to raise the marriage license fees. But that wasn’t enough.
“While I could have taken them to the courthouse to get legally married, I thought that because of their hardships over the years, I had the idea to arrange a small wedding for them,” he told The Knot. Once Tampa Tribune reporter Brianna Kwasnik shared the couple’s story and McDonald’s efforts to both plan their wedding and find them permanent housing, the owner of wedding venue Cross Creek Ranch Bonnie McSharry, who had briefly been homeless herself, quickly joined in and started contacting her vendors to create a most memorable wedding.
“The media continued to cover the planning process which resulted in an outpouring of community support,” McDonald said, including wedding photography by one of the Cross Creek Ranch’s preferred photographers, Wildes. Wildes shared with The Knot that when she received the call to photograph the homeless couple’s wedding, she was thrilled she would be available for the April 1 event, adding “Cross Creek brought together the best wedding professionals in Tampa Bay to do something positive for a couple who has just plain had a tough life and is getting a second chance at a new beginning.”
“For anyone that has a wedding there, it is going to be a magnificent experience,” McDonald said. “By virtue of holding their wedding at Cross Creek, Rocky and Evelyn received the same experience.”
What was originally a plan for a small wedding for two deserving individuals quickly became a well-organized dream wedding with the help of McSharry’s Cross Creek resources and McDonald’s endless efforts to see the homeless couple both married and in permanent housing.
“I don’t think any of us thought this wedding would receive so much support. The magnitude of their wedding experience is partially a result of the huge community support,” McDonald said, adding that each of the vendors donated goods, services and their own time to make sure the celebration was a hit. And it was!
About 75 wedding guests attended the ceremony, including the bride and groom’s friends and family, McDonald’s colleagues from the Tampa Police and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office homeless initiative, and others who aided the longtime loves in their journey.
“They were nervous and happy as most couples are and it was so awesome to see how hard everyone worked to make sure they had the best and most perfect day,” Wildes told The Knot. “It’s moments like these that I live for, where I can use what we do to capture moments for a couple who could never have imagined they would have the wedding of their dreams.”
Evelyn and Rocky were married on the evening of April 1 in Tampa Bay, Florida and it was no April Fool’s Day joke, McDonald told The Knot. “April 1st was the first date that worked for everyone,” he said. “That also gave me enough time to work on housing.”
“My goal was to get them into permanent housing by the wedding day so the limousine would not have to return them to the woods after their honeymoon (this was not an option for me),” McDonald told The Knot. “I was able to give them the keys to their new apartment at the rehearsal dinner on the day before the wedding.” Their photographer added, “It was a beautiful wedding, but also a celebration for Rocky and Evelyn as they were getting ready to move into an apartment 2 days later and not live in a tent in the woods anymore. It’s never too late for a new beginning and they are getting theirs.”
After the homeless couple spent three nights at Hilton Garden Inn for their honeymoon, Evelyn and Rocky were able to move into their new apartment on Monday, April 4th.
With several local vendors coming together to donate a beautiful wedding valued at approximately $20,000 Officer McDonald said that some naysayers asked why they received such a lavish wedding. Answering this query he told The Knot, “Just because they are homeless, are they less deserving of a special day? I don’t think so. With the pain and suffering they have endured, I promised that I would try to make their dreams a reality.”
“Rocky and Evelyn seemed surprised that so many people that they didn’t know would rally together to help them,” McDonald told The Knot. “Evelyn told them that she was resigned to her fate of spending their remaining days at a homeless camp in the woods but she kept hoping for a better life.” After quoting one of his favorite lines from the film The Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a good thing, perhaps the best of things,” the officer added, “I saw their hope which is one of the reasons I wanted to help them get married…they never asked for anything.”
The Tampa Police Department’s homeless initiative officer added that the Maid of Honor, two lades from Cross Creek Ranch and he had dinner with the newlyweds at their apartment just a couple days ago. “They are doing very well and adjusting to life in their own home,” he said. “They are tremendously grateful for what everyone did for them.”
Watch Evelyn and Rocky Barlett’s wedding video by Imagery Wedding Films below!