(CNN)Most brides and grooms-to-be have had to scale back wedding plans as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, with shorter guest lists, canceled venues and smaller receptions.
But Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis of Chicago had an idea to pivot their wedding celebrations to something even better -- by giving back to others.
Bugg and Lewis had been planning a large wedding reception for family and friends, but with the pandemic getting worse, they realized their big day wouldn't happen as planned. The couple got married last month in a small city hall ceremony, with only a photographer.
Suddenly, the couple had no venue, no reception and no guests, but they still had a $5,000 catering deposit. So, they asked their caterer if they could turn the wedding food into donated Thanksgiving dinners for those in need.
The newlyweds and the catering company helped serve 200 meals to people with serious mental illnesses and substance use conditions.
"In the grand scheme of things, canceling a big wedding isn't the worst thing that could happen," said Bugg in a statement. "We're happy to be married, and we're so happy that we could help Thresholds' clients feel the connection of a Thanksgiving meal as a result of the wedding cancellation."
"They said, 'Is there any way we could do something good with our deposit?'" recalled caterer Heidi Moorman Coudal, who owns Chicago-based company Big Delicious Planet. She said most couples ask for their money back, or they simply think of the time and resources caterers put into planning their wedding menu as another sunk cost.
"For them to think about doing something for the greater good is just really heartwarming," Coudal told CNN.
"Everybody was really excited because they knew this food was going to a really good cause," Coudal said. "I think of Big Delicious Planet as a company that gives a lot back to the community -- we donate our time, our food resources, our locations and community garden, so I was happy to get on board with this."
Bugg is an outreach worker at Thresholds, a nonprofit mental health provider in Chicago that helps people with conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depression.
Last year, the community mental health center offered services to more than 8,000 people, including young kids, the elderly, homeless people and veterans. Many of Thresholds' clients are people who also struggle with food insecurity and live on low incomes.
The couple made another donation. Bugg and Lewis also asked their wedding venue to put the reception deposit towards a future event for the Epilepsy Foundation, another charity close to Bugg's heart.
Thresholds CEO Mark Ishaug said the donation was truly needed because the nonprofit had to cancel its largest fundraiser due to Covid-19. He said Thresholds typically hosts a Thanksgiving meal for their clients in need, but had to cancel that as well amid the pandemic.
"It really couldn't have come at a better time," Ishaug said. "This is about Emily and Billy, but it really exemplifies my entire staff and how much the people who work at Thresholds care so deeply about the people they serve."
He also said the couple's example of creative generosity has inspired others to give back to the community as well.
Another Chicago man reached out to Thresholds to say that his retirement party had been canceled and asked if he could put the food deposit toward Christmas meals for those in need.
"It's an example of goodness begetting more goodness," Ishaug said. "In this time of despair and this time of sadness and anxiety and frustration, we need more goodness. This is just one example of how we can take a really dark time and make it much brighter."