SALT LAKE CITY — Big smiles and full bellies were abundant in Pioneer Park as hundreds of Salt Lake’s homeless gathered to receive a hearty meal.
Pioneer Park bustled with volunteers of all ages, including a bride and groom.
Mariah Genck, 19, and Tanner Larsen, 22, chose to forego the traditional luncheon with family and friends and to spend their wedding afternoon giving back to the community on June 27. Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, the couple organized a semi-formal lunch for the homeless.
“I think what they did was extremely gracious. It was such a beautiful way to connect the community together and people from all walks of life. I think in doing that it shows selflessness,” said Heather Openshaw, the couple’s wedding planner.
Openshaw said on a day when most brides can only think of themselves and their weddings, Genck was thinking of her community. She estimated that 500 people showed up, as well as around 30 volunteers, not including the companies that donated food and services to the event.
“There was so much food, and I thought there would not be enough to feed everyone,” Openshaw said. “But even after people had come through a few times and the late people came by, there was still so much food. It felt like Christ’s breaking of the bread.”
Helen Kwok, a 22-year-old dance major from Orem and a bride-to-be, was blown away upon hearing about Genck and Larson’s nontraditional luncheon.
“I think it was very brave. I mean it’s your wedding day, and you’re allowed to spend money on yourself and your wedding like a princess. I think it’s very kind,” Kwok said.
This is one of the many events organized by Giver Alliance, an organization that serves its community and brings people together.
Elisa Vuyk, the executive director of Giver Alliance, is also Larsen’s mother. As the mother of the groom, one of her responsibilities for the wedding was to take care of the luncheon. After planning a traditional luncheon that would be held after the temple ceremony, Vuyk said she changed directions after Genck told her of her idea to feed the homeless instead.
“Serving the less fortunate was just one thing they had in common, as we as a family were also involved with a wide variety of humanitarian projects in Tanner’s Youth,” Vuyk said. “When Mariah expressed her alternative luncheon plans, I was initially impressed to know that she shared a giving heart and an out-of-the-box kind of thinking, like me.”
For Vuyk, one of the highlights from the event was seeing all the smiling faces of the homeless, who were so grateful for a warm meal and even the clean shirts that sponsors donated.
“I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to take my new friends home with me or just lay down on blanket with them in the park and hear their stories,” Vuyk said.
Giver Alliance, established in 2004, has an ongoing campaign called the Karma Kampaign, which focuses around the motto, “What goes around comes back around.” The campaign will fund Giver Alliance, as it is a nonprofit organization. The funds raised could be used to start various social impact ventures and generate revenues to fund other social impact companies.
“Anyone can help by even donating $1,” Vuyk said. “You decide your own karma level.”