Charitable bliss

More and more, brides and grooms are sharing their wedding-day joy in a new way: They’re giving back.

Wedding mitzvot are becoming increasingly common in the Bay Area and across the country, among Jews and non-Jews alike. Newlyweds are donating still-fresh floral arrangements to agencies that serve the elderly or disadvantaged. They’re giving leftover, untouched foods to nonprofits that serve the hungry.

And they’re eschewing gifts and party favors for donations to charitable organizations in the United States and Israel.

Such gestures are hardly spur of the moment, either. Often the seeds are planted in the early stages of the wedding-planning process.

For years, Wendy Kleckner of Too Caterers in Menlo Park has brought up the topic when she meets with clients. “The bride and groom are so blessed to be able to talk about having a wedding and discuss their choice of food. More and more now, people are more sensitive” to the reality of those who are without.

Kleckner doesn’t always need to initiate the discussion either. “People will often ask, ‘What happens to the leftovers?'” she says. “We’ll talk about giving to Mazon [a Jewish Response to Hunger] at our initial meeting.”

In the South Bay, she often works with the Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Untouched food from the buffet table, or centerpiece items such as whole fruits and nuts, can also go to the Ecumenical Hunger Program in East Palo Alto or the Urban Ministry Food Closet in Palo Alto, two of her favorites. Even Kleckner herself participates. “We always make sure that we make enough that a portion will go” to a food bank or pantry, she says.

In addition to food donations, Kleckner says she has seen couples abandon the tradition of giving party favors to guests, and instead make donations on their behalf to good causes, from protecting wildlife to planting trees in Israel.

Kleckner derives a sense of satisfaction when she can help facilitate mitzvot. “It makes you feel connected to the whole community, the haves and the have-nots,” she explains. And she suggests that many couples today, because they tend to be older than brides and grooms of yesteryear, are more inclined to reach out to others.

“They’ve done more living, they’ve been out in business and they can see” the need, she says. “They also have a real sense of who they are. … They understand that you have to take care of the greater community. It’s not all arrows pointing in, there are also arrows going out.”

When Mary Garmo and Arthur Gold were married at Temple Israel this past June, they donated new chuppah poles to the Alameda Reform synagogue. “We wanted to use the one at the temple — I liked it,” she said, “but the poles were kind of short and when you were under the chuppah, it was like you were enclosed.”

So they asked a designer and carpenter friend if he could assist. They brought him to the temple to see the existing poles and chuppah and take measurements. He produced four 10-foot-tall “beautiful oak poles,” to which Gold applied a natural-colored light stain. Though Gold, a retired art director from New York, is a relative newcomer to the temple (and to Alameda and the West Coast, for that matter), Garmo has been a member for more than 25 years. Their decision to donate the chuppah poles was mutual, and heartfelt.

Also, when they sent out their wedding invitations, the couple let it be known that in lieu of gifts, they’d appreciate donations to the temple’s campership fund. The third marriage for each — both easily qualify as “seniors” — they had little need for typical wedding gifts such as small appliances, towels and serving pieces.

“Both of us are older and we have two households, which we’re still trying to merge,” she says. “There really wasn’t anything that we needed.”

To those who inquired, “Are you registered?” she’d stammer a reply like, “Well, no …” she says, laughing.

Rather than put the request in writing, however, she asked her wedding attendants and 21-year-old daughter to spread the word. That, or a separate written note or letter, is the polite way to make one’s wishes known, according to the Web site MarriedForGood.com.

Created in 2001 by New York City resident Joanna Dreifus, who is Jewish, the organization has a threefold mission: “To increase philanthropy and philanthropy awareness among Gen Xers; to increase the visibility of, and donations to, major U.S. charities; to encourage occasion-based charitable gift-giving.” The site lists the American Institute of Philanthropy’s top-rated U.S. charities, which includes four under the heading “Jewish and Israel.”

When Dreifus married Sandy Weisburst not too long ago, they gave contributions in lieu of wedding favors and donated leftover flowers to a local hospital.

The Oakland-based Web site www.justgive.org is a year-old wedding registry that enables people to direct donations from a list of 850,000 certified charitable organizations registered with the Internal Revenue Service. Jewish couples are among the many who’ve taken to the idea of charitable giving and are actively seeking ways to do so, according to Colleen Patrick-Goodreas, of Just Give.

In the Bay Area, there is no Jewish clearinghouse per se for those who want to perform wedding mitzvot. However, a call to the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation Information and Referral line, (415) 777-4545, will probably produce some leads.

It is not uncommon, for example, for people to send floral arrangements to the Jewish Home in San Francisco or Rhoda Goldman Plaza, said a volunteer, who also suggested that synagogues operating food programs, such as Congregations Emanu-El and Sherith Israel, may accept leftover food.

In the East Bay, the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville is occasionally the recipient of floral arrangements.

Of course, the need goes far beyond the Jewish community. Mary Gold said that after her daughter’s bat mitzvah in 1995, the family took the potted-plant table decorations over to the Alameda Hospital, where her daughter had volunteered.

There are many other options as well. Married For Good founder Dreifus, for instance, serves on the advisory board of the I Do Foundation, which was founded in 2000 by a group of nonprofit leaders. A Web site (www.Idofoundation.org) was created in 2002. Among other things, the foundation helps people earmark donations to charities, and will match couples with department stores and other retailers that give part of the proceeds of purchased gifts for the couples to their selected charitable cause.

Other groups, such as Eretz Tova Bridal Fund in Brooklyn, N.Y., will accept bridal dresses and wedding gowns and loan them out (718) 243-2495).

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.