Newlyweds say 'I do' to good causes

When lawyer Sue-Ann Phay was planning her wedding a few months ago, she imagined having cupcakes, macarons and other sweet treats at a decorated booth at her reception.

After all, dessert bars are quite the rage among her newly married friends. But when she got hitched at the St Regis Hotel on Saturday, she had a cookie counter instead. Next to the mounds of oatmeal and chocolate cookies were a write-up and photos indicating they were baked by clients from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds).

Like Ms Phay, who is in her early 30s, more young couples are opting for "socially conscious" weddings where food and drinks are provided by charities or social enterprises. As weddings become increasingly lavish and costly, couples say they would rather see the money going to social causes.

In response, a small number of charities are seizing the chance to start or expand their catering business to provide jobs for the disadvantaged. At least two started doing so this year and one more may do so next year.

Minds, for instance, set up a baking social enterprise two years ago but started taking orders for weddings only this year after word got around and people asked about them.

One of them was Shamini Thilarajah, who ordered 1,000 cookies for her guests in August.

"It was my big day but I told myself that it's okay if the packaging doesn't look good or if the cookies don't taste so good because it is for a good cause. But they turned out fantastic," said the 32-year-old designer.

"My guests were curious why I chose the charity to do it, so it got us talking and that got it many referrals and orders afterwards."

Social enterprise Bliss Restaurant and Catering, which hires about 20 of the intellectually disabled, those with hearing difficulties and former offenders, has seen a 12 per cent growth in wedding orders for buffets in the last year.

"The younger generation are spending more and veering towards more gourmet food choices, yet they are also more aware and supportive of the social mission behind social enterprises," said its founder, Christine Low, 42.

The charities say their catering prices are comparable to those of regular vendors. Food packages at Bliss, for example, can range from $10 to $100 per person.

Said Ms Joanna Cheng, 26, who had her wedding luncheon catered by Bliss in May: "We find that weddings nowadays are pretty self-centred affairs where all the focus is on the couple, so we wanted to use it as a means to bless others."

The lawyer added: "It is not only about supporting them monetarily, but when their service and food are accepted by people, their confidence also grows."

Ms Low said the catering business suits special needs persons as the advance bookings give them time to prepare, versus working in restaurants where last-minute orders can stress them out.

Ng Rei Na, senior manager of Minds Social Enterprises, said some customers are going the extra mile to bake the cookies with the intellectually disabled. "These sessions can help boost our clients' self-confidence as they can practise communicating with other people instead of just with their peers, training officers or family members," she said.

Ms Phay, who baked with Minds clients, said it was humbling: "You see the amount of effort they put in and how proud they are of their work.

"By interacting with them, couples can understand the meaning behind getting the cookies - it is about raising awareness and supporting these special people in our midst."

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