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Newlyweds donate $20,000 from canceled party to feed Sonoma Valley hungry

When COVID-19 restrictions at last persuaded a betrothed Bay Area couple that they must cancel the wedding party of their dreams, they discussed the nearly $20,000, most of it refundable, that they’d prepaid prominent Wine Country caterer Elaine Bell.

The couple then did something astonishing.

They reached out to Bell and asked her to return none of the money she’d received from them for a deposit and retainer. The couple directed the caterer: Please use the dollars to feed as many people as possible.

Blown away by the act of caring, Bell and her kitchen crew are busily preparing and delivering fine meals to thousands of people in Sonoma Valley unaccustomed to such pleasures.

Two of the valley’s social service nonprofits are partnering with the Napa-based Elaine Bell Catering to get the food to people who are homeless or who can’t rely on their grocery money holding out to month’s end.

As they would for a wedding party or gala, Elaine Bell Catering staffers are preparing the meals to be distributed to people at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Overnight Support, or SOS, which five days a week provide breakfast and lunch to about 250 homeless or food-insecure people at Sonoma Springs Community Hall in Boyes Hot Springs.

The entrees have included beef empanadas, pasta Bolognese, tamales and penne with sausage, accompanied by the likes of black bean and fresh corn salad, Grissini breadsticks, pretzel bites with whole-grain mustard, fresh fruit and churros with chocolate dipping sauce.

“It’s gourmet,” said Kathy King, chief of Sonoma Overnight Support.

“Everybody loves it,” King said. “They’re grateful, and they’re hungry.”

The benefactors asked Bell to keep their identity confidential. Bell felt free to say the couple lives in the Bay Area and originally planned to celebrate their wedding with a dinner party at the San Francisco Design Center Galleria in March 2020.

Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States.

“They were really in the thick of it,” Bell said of the couple forced to postpone their plans.

They settled for simpler nuptials, but held onto their desire to celebrate at a dinner with a large group of relatives and friends at the Design Center Galleria. They pushed the date forward to this April.

But restrictions on large, indoor gatherings in San Francisco, though recently eased, remain in force. The couple decided to cancel their wedding dinner.

Their decision to ask Bell to use their almost $20,000 in deposit/retainer money to feed hungry people has been a godsend not only to those receiving the food, but to a catering company hit hard by the wholesale cancellation of events resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.

To raise money to keep the 40-year-old firm alive, Bell and her husband sold their home. She said the money from the couple is allowing her to keep some of her kitchen staff employed through a most difficult period.

“It gave my crew a couple of big projects to work on,” Bell said. “My chefs are taking so much pride in preparing the food and getting it out.“

To learn more about SOS, go to: www.sonomaovernightsupport.org.

For more on the Boys & Girls Clubs, see: https://www.bgcsonoma.org/.

On Friday at the valley’s main Boys & Girls Club location at Maxwell Farms Regional Park, families picked up bags that Elaine Bell Catering had filled with heat-at-home dinners of ragout of pork with brown sauce, veggies, herbs and garlic; Asiago herb polenta, roasted potato wedges with olive oil, roasted carrots with green peas, vegetable lentil soup, pretzel bites and cookies.

Bell considers the good being done by the couple that found a way to turn the COVID-caused cancellation of their wedding dinner into a positive, and she wishes aloud, “I hope it inspires other people to do the same.”

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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