Former homeless couple receives ‘dream wedding’ from crowdfund

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Longtime volunteers of downtown Portland's 'Potluck in the Park' free meal program wed

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Julius and Denise Brown first met at a free meal program in downtown Portland, called Potluck in the Park, when they were both experiencing homelessness.

“I fell in love with her the first time I saw her,” Julius recalled.

“I’m happy that I’m ‘Mrs. Brown,” Denise added.

Over the 16 years since that first meeting, they’ve both volunteered for the program that helped them and have since found housing.

When it was finally time to tie the knot, they could only afford a civil ceremony across the river in Vancouver, Washington, without the company of friends or family. That’s because it was $30 cheaper than in Oregon and continuing medical issues they both face left their finances tight.

Upon hearing of the humble nuptial plan, fellow Potluck in the Park volunteer David Utzinger immediately wanted to chip in. He created a Go Fund Me crowdfunding campaign to help them have the wedding of their dreams.

“We would like to make this the very best day of their lives because they deserve it,” Utzinger said.

With over $5000 raised, the couple wed Saturday at First Congregational Church in southwest Portland with the company of loved ones from near and far.

David Utzinger, a longtime volunteer for Potluck in the Park, helped organize a crowdfunding effort for fellow volunteers Julius and Denise Brown to fund their dream wedding November 23, 2019 (KOIN/Danny Peterson).

“Anybody that thinks that dreams don’t come true, look at us,” Julius said.

“It is a dream come true,” Denise added.

Both Denise and Julius have overcome extraordinary odds to find themselves on the receiving end of each others’ vows.

In 2017 Denise suffered a heart attack and then a stroke, the crowdfunding page stated. Last year, Julius found out he had throat cancer, but he’s since been in recovery–cancer-free–thanks to a surgery.

It was in part thanks to a non-profit organization, called JOIN, that the two were able to be housed after Julius had suffered a crushed vertebrae that left him unable to work. They now live with Denise’s brother, said Julius, who added he is also now on disability benefits.

The couple has a reputation for giving back, with Julius having served on JOIN’s Board of Directors and Denise knitting scarves and caps for those in need in her spare time. They’ve both served on Potluck in the Park’s Board of Directors since 2010.

After years of going through homelessness in the early 2000s, Julius had been distraught.

“Living on the streets to me was an experience I would never want to forget. It made me a better person,” he said.

In the throes of his despair, Julius said he once almost threw himself off of the Ross Island Bridge, but something physically pulled him down off the railing.

“When I looked up, there was nobody around. And two days later, I met her,” Julius said. “Only thing I can say is it was my guardian angel and it brought us together.”

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