A canceled wedding left a $5,000 catering deposit. This couple used it to serve Thanksgiving meals.

Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis lost their $5,000 catering deposit when their wedding was canceled due to coronavirus restrictions. But they got married anyway and their non-refundable deposit went to charity.



a person sitting at a table in front of a car: Emily Bugg prepares Thanksgiving meal packages for delivery to Thresholds clients.


© Elizabeth Boschma, Thresholds
Emily Bugg prepares Thanksgiving meal packages for delivery to Thresholds clients.

It’s a novel and humanitarian way to deal with a problem that couples occasionally face in the COVID-19 pandemic, when their weddings are canceled or re-scheduled.

“We’ve had a couple cancellations, but nobody’s ever said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea. Put my deposit toward a charitable cause,'” said Heidi Moorman Coudal, the owner of Big Delicious Planet catering company. Coudal agreed to use the Illinois couple’s deposit toward 200 Thanksgiving meals for Thresholds, a nonprofit whose clients include people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders in the state. 

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It’s something the catering company had never done before in 26 years of operations,  Coudal told USA TODAY. It was bit of good news in an otherwise rough year for the company, which typically caters 60 weddings per year, she said. Like other caterers this year, Big Delicious Planet has been hit hard by protocols designed to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

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Big Delicious Planet, a Chicago-based caterer, prepared meals that included turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, salad, bread and butter, and a desert, Coudal said. Grace Hamilton, the company’s director of weddings and events, brought Bugg’s idea to Coudal, the owner said. 

Coudal said she and her employees jumped at the chance to help. Four Big Delicious Planet employees cooked the meal and boxed it up. Bugg and other volunteers hand-delivered the food, Coudal said. 



a bunch of food on a table: Big Delicious Planet of Chicago prepares 200 meals for donation to Thresholds clients.


© Courtesy Big Delicious Planet
Big Delicious Planet of Chicago prepares 200 meals for donation to Thresholds clients.

“My initial reaction was like, ‘Wow, that’s different,” Coudal said. 

She added, “I thought this was a really nice cause and a nice idea and I think it was kind of refreshing to do something nice when so many bad things are happening right now and too many people are in need. I was like, ‘Sure, let’s do it.'” 

Bugg, 33, works for Threshold as an outreach worker, the company said in an email. She and Lewis, 34, got married on Oct. 1 at City Hall in Chicago. The couple also spoke with the venue Salvage One, which agreed to put their deposit toward a future event for the Epilepsy Foundation, another cause Bugg has a connection to, Thresholds said.  

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“In the grand scheme of things, canceling a big wedding isn’t the worst thing that could happen,” Bugg said 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

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Couple uses catering deposit from canceled wedding to feed 200 people on Thanksgiving

Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis got married at City Hall amid COVID-19.

Emily Bugg, 33, and Billy Lewis, 34, used their $5,000 nonrefundable deposit to purchase 200 Thanksgiving dinners for clients of Thresholds, a nonprofit mental health provider dedicated to helping 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,” Bugg, an outreach worker at Thresholds, told “Good Morning America.” ” 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.”

Bugg and Lewis were married Oct. 1st at City Hall in Chicago. The couple met on the dating app Bumble in 2017.

PHOTO: Emily Bugg, 33, and Billy Lewis, 34, used their $5,000 nonrefundable catering deposit for 200 Thanksgiving dinners. The recipients were clients of Thresholds, a nonprofit mental health provider.

When COVID-19 disrupted their initial wedding gathering, Bugg and Lewis decided to team up with their with caterer, Big Delicious Planet, to make Thanksgiving dinners for Thresholds clients. The meals included turkey, vegetables and mashed potatoes.

Bugg and Lewis’s venue, Salvage One, agreed to put their deposit toward a future event for the Epilepsy Foundation, which is another cause to which Bugg is connected.

Thresholds’ yearly communal Thanksgiving dinners were canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Emily’s donation is an incredible example of the generosity and creativity that the pandemic has inspired in so many,” said Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds. “I know that Emily’s act of kindness will inspire others to do the same and build love and connection in a difficult time, in any way we can.”

“Thresholds is so grateful for our staff, like Emily, who are so dedicated to their work serving those with mental illnesses,” he added.

Thresholds staff boxed the meals with caterers, and then Thresholds staff delivered the meals to clients’ homes ahead of the holiday.

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Chicago couple cancel wedding reception, use catering deposit to feed others for Thanksgiving

Emily Bugg and Billy Lewis had been planning a big wedding in a funky West Town warehouse, with catered food and 150 guests coming in from both coasts and lots of places in between.

But then the pandemic did what it’s done to so many giddy couples — it wrecked those elaborate plans.

“It just didn’t feel like it was in the cards,” said Bugg, 33, who lives in the Avondale neighborhood.

So last month, Bugg and Lewis, 34, decided to tie the knot anyway, alone, except for their photographer, before a judge on the 13th floor of the Daley Center. Bugg left her $1,400 wedding dress in the closet, choosing a simple white dress instead, as they made their way through the first-floor metal detector to the elevator and then to the courtroom.

With no guests, there would be no reception and no food — not for them at least. Bugg and her new husband decided that wouldn’t mean no celebration.

Bugg supervises a team of community outreach workers for Thresholds, a Chicago-based nonprofit that offers a range of services for people with serious mental illnesses.

Every year, Thresholds organizes big Thanksgiving gatherings for its clients. That couldn’t happen this year because of the pandemic.

“Our members look forward to the Thanksgiving party every year. So when they started asking when it would be and what would happen, that’s when the wheels started to turn,” Bugg said.

The couple persuaded their caterer, Big Delicious Planet, to use their $5,000 deposit to instead package up 200 Thanksgiving meals, including turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. Bugg and some of her co-workers personally delivered those meals last week to 200 Thresholds clients at their homes on the West Side.

The couple’s generosity was first reported by The Washington Post.

“She took what could have been a really sad situation for herself, her husband and her family and she turned it into something magical and beautiful,” said Bugg’s boss, Mark Ishaug, Thresholds CEO.

Or as Bugg puts it: “Even while we were disappointed, we realized we still have so much. Canceling a wedding compared to what other people were going through wasn’t as big a deal.”

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Chicago couple turns catering deposit into donated meals after canceling wedding

A Chicago couple who canceled their wedding reception due to the coronavirus pandemic instead used their nonrefundable catering deposit to buy 200 Thanksgiving dinners for people struggling with mental illness, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.



a group of people sitting at a table with plates of food: holiday dinner, talking about politics at a family gathering, talking about politics with family


© iStock
holiday dinner, talking about politics at a family gathering, talking about politics with family

Clients of Thresholds, the nonprofit where Emily Bugg works as an outreach worker, received boxed dinners from caterer Big Delicious Planet after Bugg and her husband Billy Lewis opted for a City Hall wedding.

“This just seemed like a good way to make the best of a bad situation,” Bugg told the Post.

The couple, who were engaged in July 2019, pared back their wedding plans several times before finally canceling it altogether and opting for a civil ceremony on Oct. 1.

“We had come to a place where we had some big decisions to make,” Lewis told the newspaper. “We decided to just go ahead and get on with our lives.”

Jane Himmel, owner of Chicago’s Jane Himmel Weddings and Special Events, told the Post she anticipates similar attempts to give back as the pandemic disrupts more nuptial plans.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was just total chaos. But as it stretched on, people started adjusting to reality,” she said. “There’s been a mind shift. Couples want to turn lemons into lemonade.”

Thresholds CEO Mark Ishaug said the donation came at a time when the pandemic has severely cut into the nonprofit’s services, harming fundraising and forcing it to cancel the group’s communal dinners. Ishaug said he’s hopeful a high-profile act of charity like this one could spur “copycat activities,” particularly around the Thanksgiving season.

“We hope they can still feel the warmth of knowing that we care about them,” he told the Post. “These small moments of connection are what’s keeping us going during these difficult months.”

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