HOUSTON – Shellie Schoellkopf and Robert Callaway’s wedding photos aren’t typical.
Instead of a farm or botanical gardens, the common sights of Houston after Hurricane Harvey -- debris piles and a gutted house -- form the backdrop for this couple’s photo shoot, held just weeks before their Oct. 7 wedding.
Harvey has indeed shaped this couple’s nuptials, but not in the way you might think.
They won’t be having a reception, not because the storm flooded their venue, but because they’ve decided to donate their entire reception fund -- at least $5,000 -- to help the victims of the floods.
It was a decision the couple made as Harvey made its first devastating mark on Houston on Sunday, Aug. 27, blasting through and flooding several of their relatives’ and friends’ homes. All they had to do was take a look at the guest list.
"This person lost everything ...This person lost everything ...This person lost everything," said Callaway.
“We were just sitting outside and talking about what we wanted to do (about the wedding),” Schoellkopf said. “All of our family was affected on some level. We sat down and said, 'We need to do something.'"
Schoellkopf said they had pushed back the wedding twice before – once because of timing and again because they were building a house. They didn’t want to push the date back again, so they decided to keep the ceremony and donate the reception funds.
The photo shoot theme, Schoellkopf said, was chosen to stand as a lifelong reminder of where the money for the reception was going -- to the people hurting after the floods.
“It felt right and we just went with it,” Shoellkopf said. “We felt we could do something so much better with the money.”
The couple said they already have people in mind they plan to help financially.
Schoellkopf and Callaway have family and friends in some of the hardest-hit areas: Dickinson, Baytown and League City.
The couple’s home didn’t flood, so they’re putting up relatives and helping gut houses whenever they can. In fact, the homes seen in their wedding photos are ones they helped clear after the floods.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything amazing,” Schoellkopf said. “We’re trying to stay very humble about it. We realize we’re very blessed in many ways, and we want to give back to people. We’ve been in the position of having people step up for us.”
Couple donates wedding reception funds to Harvey ReliefPosted by KPRC2 Rose-Ann Aragon on Tuesday, September 12, 2017
Schoellkopf said she and Callaway have been together for six years.
She said her husband-to-be has been hard at work since Harvey, helping as many people as he can when he’s not working offshore. She said he writes on social media often, asking people if they need help.
“He’s very soft-spoken, but he’s really incredible,” Schoellkopf said. “He won’t brag on himself, but I will.”
They put down their planners and picked up tools. One of the first things they did was help their close family friends, Dickey and Charla Bigler, clean out their Baytown home, which took in 5 feet of water.
"We pulled out the floors and the sheetrock. There were people in golf carts and side-by-sides and four-wheelers handing out breakfast tacos, water and everything," said Callaway.
It was a vision of community and neighbors helping neighbors that inspired the idea that their marriage and wedding should be remembered by the beauty of helping one another, in addition to actually helping.
"The reception is forgettable and when it comes down to it, all you have are the photos and the memories that you're able to hold onto," said Schoellkopf.
The couple wanted to shoot the photos at the Bigler's home.
"They were all about it. They were really excited to do it," said Callaway, smiling.
The challenge was finding the right person for the job.
"When you think about it, we want to take a pictures in debris of ruined homes. It takes someone special to run with that and make it something beautiful," said Schoellkopf.
Bryan Anderson, their photographer, who lost his home to Harvey, captured the photos.
"There's that whole other layer behind the photos," said Schoellkopf. "It captures everything we've seen in the community. We don't just see these piles of sheetrock and belongings. We see neighbors coming over and saying, 'I've got my walls down. What do you need?'"
"It captures what has happened and what we're trying to overcome because of it," said Callaway.
The couple has also canceled their gift registry, and has set up a GoFundMe account.
In the meantime, they’re looking toward their wedding ceremony, which is definitely on.
“We’ve been through pretty much anything we could go through,” Schoellkopf said. “We’re really more focused on the marriage than on the wedding. What better way to start off on the right foot than this?”