Social media is ripping us apart, I whine to anyone who’ll listen. Tweets, posts, and comments may give us the illusion of connection, but they’re isolating us from in-person connections that would give us joy.
“Blah blah blah,” I drone on, morosely convinced that digital communication will be our ruin.
Then along comes Sharon Suleta. Her Facebook post last month about a woman she barely knows has brought Good Samaritans stampeding forward to create a wedding for the woman, who could use the help.
And I think, “What do I know, anyway? ”
If you use Suburban Station, you might have seen Suleta, 61, a Wallingford lawyer who last year, on a whim, started distributing sandwiches and socks to the homeless people who seek shelter there.
She saw in them her own father, who became homeless after abandoning his family. And she remembered her own hunger when, at 17, she lived on her own in a shoebox apartment downtown.
“My childhood was not easy,” says Suleta, a warm, bubbly woman who does zoning work for the city.
She is adored by the men and women she helps. They hold a parking spot for her Prius. They help distribute the tuna sandwiches and Tastykakes. They hug her goodbye and tell her to stay safe.
On Feb. 18, Maria Isaacs, 54, one of Suleta’s regulars, shyly invited Suleta to her wedding. Isaacs and her beau of 41 years had recently secured housing and planned to marry on April 21st in the community room of a supported-housing agency that had assisted Maria.
“I told her I’d love to attend and would bring food,” says Suleta, thinking she’d bake a casserole. That night, she posted a photo of Isaacs on Facebook and jokingly wrote, “Anybody want to help me cater a wedding?”
Scores of hopeless romantics enthusiastically responded, including Atlanta-based chef extraordinaire Alison Barshak, who simply asked, “How many guests?”
Others offered to bake the wedding cake and desserts. To supply flowers. To style the bride’s hair and do her makeup. To officiate, decorate, table-wait, and wash dishes.
And four women offered to give Maria their own bridal gowns.
“It was turning into a real wedding!” says Suleta.
And getting just as complicated.
Suleta suspected the groom didn’t know about the wedding (he didn’t; long story), so she couldn’t proceed with plans until she confirmed he was on board (he was; happy ending).
Then she had to help Maria replace her lost ID, otherwise the couple couldn’t apply for a marriage license. It took two attempts (don’t ask) to secure the license at the Register of Wills, whose patient staff treated the couple like royalty.
And then the wedding hall fell through, which has Suleta a little worried right now. The marriage license is good for 60 days, and 15 days have already passed.
“All the volunteers are asking, ‘Where and when’s the wedding?’ ” says Suleta. “If I don’t find a hall soon, the license will expire and we’ve got to start over again.”
Meantime, the bride needs a fitting. And that’s how we’ve come to be at the darling Carolyn Verdi Boutique on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philly. Verdi, a former wedding planner, has donated a brand-new Demetrios gown to Isaacs for her big day.
Isaacs, who has allowed me to tag along, grins as Suleta and Verdi discuss how to alter the sleeveless, beaded-satin number to Isaacs’ short frame.
“Ohh, this is nice!” she says as the women tug at the straps and bustle the hem. Later, she tells me that Suleta is like her “second mom.”
“She is kind and good; she’s in God’s heart,” says Isaacs, who manages to be happy despite a life battered by addiction. She says she has been clean and sober for over a year, relies on the Lord to keep her that way, and is excited to marry the man she has loved for decades.
“We look out for each other,” she says. “I can’t wait for our wedding.”
Which won’t happen unless one more Good Samaritan gets behind this lovingly crowdsourced wedding and donates a hall. (Anyone interested? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-2217.)
“Maria’s life has been difficult,” says Suleta, who had to overcome many of her own hardships. “It will be nice to give her one really good day.”