, , , ,

Originally published in The Huffington Post

New Jersey couple Samantha and Chris Reinhold were planning to get married in Aruba in November 2013. But after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their Staten Island home in October 2012, they realized they could no longer afford their dream wedding. Then, Samantha, 24, a hairstylist, entered herself and Chris, 28, an engineer, into a contest to win a free wedding from TheKnot.com. They didn’t win, but thanks to the generosity of local wedding vendors and wedding gown designer Amsale, they married on Saturday in a free wedding at the Affinia Manhattan Hotel. Here, Samantha and Chris tell their story to HuffPost Weddings’ Erin Migdol.

Samantha: We met in 2010 on the Jersey shore. We had mutual friends, and we both had shore houses that summer. We met at this bar in New Jersey.

Chris: We were talking the whole night and I had to go home early because I had work the next morning, so I asked for her number and then from then on it turned into more.

Samantha: Our personalities are very similar. As we were talking we found similar values in our work ethic, the way we talked about families. We got engaged Memorial Day 2012. I had been bugging him to go to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for a while. But he decided to start weeding the yard and got covered in poison ivy. So he took me [to the gardens] covered in poison ivy and wearing long sleeves. It was 100 degrees out that day and nothing was going to stop him [from proposing].

We were planning a destination wedding in Aruba for this coming November 2013. The location, the date, the menu, pretty much everything was set, aside from signing off on it. We didn’t have anything [paid for] yet, thankfully. We just had the plans going.

Chris: I’ve been [living on Staten Island] for 28 years and I’ve never seen water in the street, never mind seven feet of water in the street. [When the hurricane hit] I thought I’d see a little water flow down the block, but then about two hours before the high tide came in I started seeing more water come down like a foot deep and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is going to be bad.’ We saw the water right there on the street and were like, ‘We have to go.’ I ran downstairs and Samantha had food on the stove so she had to stop that; the street already had about two feet of water in it. We got the dog and ran out with big rain boots on, splashing through water where my car was and we drove to my brother’s house in the north shore, in the middle of Staten Island.

Samantha: We left it all. I had an emergency backpack packed with dog food and pajamas. We really didn’t expect to have to leave. But then the current came up and by the time we left it was already past our knees in front of the house. When we moved in to the house in May, we immediately started remodeling, so we had just re-sanded the floors, painted, we had brand new furniture. We put a lot of work into it.

Chris: We were thinking we’d leave the house and come back to it the way it was. We thought we’d come back and there’d be water at the front step. But my brother-in-law is a cop in the area and he kept calling me like, ‘Oh it’s up to your front door.’ When I was leaving I was still praying that things weren’t going to be as bad as they were. But throughout the night hearing the news reports, we realized this was going to be pretty bad.

Samantha: It wasn’t until we started hearing about people being rescued out of their attics in our neighborhood and the rescue boats pulling people out of second and third story windows that we realized, ‘Oh my God, what’s going to be there when we got back?’ We went back the next morning. We got up pretty early only because it was hard to sleep. We had to park five or six blocks away because there were cars and trees and flooding in the street. The first thing we noticed was two of [our] cars that were left at the house were turned around and smashed into the shed and smashed into the garage and all the framing around the garage was broken and busted in. When we started climbing through all the things that were now on the floor to get into the house, it was impossible to even get into the doors because everything was shifted. Everything was still wet but the water had receded, except in our basement which was completely full –- there was about 10 feet of water down there. Everything was covered in this mucky slime. In the rooms where there was furniture, they were completely saturated, the rugs were saturated, everything was on top of each other. Everything but the second floor was destroyed.

We started thinking about the wedding by the end of that week. I got back on my email and I found all the correspondence from the people at the hotel where we were going to plan our wedding and I wrote them back and said, ‘Look, this is what happened, we don’t know when we’re going to be able to get married. I can’t commit to any specific date at this point.’ After that it was out of our heads. I couldn’t sign [the contracts with our vendors] because we didn’t know where we were going to be at that point, since we had three quarters of the house that would [have to] be gutted and renovated and things replaced. For the money we had saved, obviously we’re thinking, we have so much we need to do, down to the walls and electrical.

I had signed up on The Knot after we got engaged because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Three weeks after the storm I had an email saying, ‘Win a dream wedding from The Knot.’ We quickly submitted a video, and it was very honest, one take, here’s our story. And it took off from there. They contacted me very quickly and put our video on the website while they were still taking submissions and during that time they asked if one of the local news channels could come and do an interview with us. All of a sudden we started getting a lot of media attention because we were trying to win this wedding, and we had a lot of support which was pretty cool. It was a voting contest, and unfortunately we didn’t get enough people to vote for us so we didn’t win. But because we had so much of that media attention, the PR director of The Knot, Carly Zipp, and I had a pretty good relationship. After being notified that we didn’t win, she called me back privately and let me know that she didn’t want to leave us in the dust and she fell in love with us through the process and thought she could still make something happen for us.

She reached out to a few of her partners, Amsale and the Affinia Manhattan Hotel, and they were both on board to help us have our wedding. Amsale offered me a choice of bridal gown and bridesmaids gowns. The Affinia offered to host our wedding reception for 100 guests. From there other people started getting involved. It’s something you never expect. You don’t expect people to go out of their way like that. It’s heartwarming and reinstates your faith in humanity when things like that happen.

I’ve got a little bit of bridal blues [now that the wedding is over]. It’s the biggest day of your life and it goes so fast, but mostly we’re happy. We’re happy to be together, we’re happy we had this wedding and we’re just grateful for it all. We feel very blessed.

I’ve seen with other people when they’re faced with adversity — it tears them apart. And instead it made us stronger and it made us love each other more. If we can get through this I’m pretty sure we can get through almost anything.