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Eloping to Tampa outreach center, volunteers marry before homeless well-wishers

TAMPA — The groom came down the aisle on white lace carpet that had been unfurled by a man he had prayed for several months ago.

The man had been a down-on-luck veteran needing a home. Three weeks later, he had one.

The arch the bride stood under Thursday night, lighted and wrapped with ivy and roses, had been assembled by another homeless man.

He liked to study books in his tent but couldn't at night. So she bought him a reading light.

Estelle Wolfman, 52, a Hillsborough County schools staffing coordinator, and Greg Armand, 45, a phone company manager, volunteer at Amazing Love Ministries, a center near Ybor City that feeds, clothes and befriends homeless people.

She runs the Bible study and writes the quarterly volunteer newsletter. He is a pastor who takes prayer requests and visits the hurt in the hospital.

They had served together for more than four years but never really knew each other until last year, when ministry founders Jim Killeen, 71, and his wife, Barbara, 69, began wondering who might take over for them someday.

They immediately thought of Wolfman and Armand, and one thought led to another:

Wouldn't they make a great pair?

The Killeens prayed about it but never told either. They weren't trying to set them up when both came to the Killeens' home for Christmas Eve dinner.

It was soon clear that they didn't need to when they found both engrossed in conversation on the patio.

A first date on New Year's Eve led to a first kiss. Armand proposed April 29, the same day as the royal wedding in England.

But the local pair aimed for a more humble affair.

They wanted to elope one night to Amazing Love Ministries with the Killeens and whoever happened to be there.

But word leaked out. A fellow volunteer with a nice camera wanted to photograph. The Amazing Love Choir, made up mostly of homeless clients, wanted to sing. A volunteer knew someone who could cater. The homeless all wanted a role.

They wanted to serve the couple who had served them — even helping some to self-sufficiency.

Steve Smith, 47, set up tables and chairs and sprayed Febreze on the air-conditioning vents. William Smith Jr. set up the microphone and tested it with a Donald Duck impression. Andre Guion carried in bags of ice.

The white curtain bows, arch and ring pillow came from craft stores using 40 and 50 percent off coupons the bride had saved up. Walmart and Dollar Tree provided the chocolate syrup, crushed nuts, Oreos and maraschino cherries for the ice cream reception.

Wolfman baked the brownies — the same kind she baked every Monday for Bible study. Publix baked the cake.

Jim Killeen shed his athletic shorts for pants — a rarity — and his wife made him get a haircut.

Armand wore a silk patterned shirt, dark slacks and shiny loafers from the University Mall.

Wolfman wore a $47 Macy's gown, tiara and a face that alternated between laughs and tears as she recited her vows.

Together, they braided three ceremonial strands of rope that represented them and God, and everyone packed into New Harmony Missionary Baptist Church laughed when they high-fived afterward.

Armand's 6-foot-3 frame dipped Wolfman's tiny body in a long kiss, and people cheered.

It was a casual wedding, just as the couple had requested, but many dressed up. It was hard to tell who slept on the streets or in the suburbs except for the occasional frayed duffel bag stuffed under a chair.

"Our family," Wolfman had called them, and she summoned name after name to join her wedding photos after the ceremony.

"Andre," she said. "Steve!"

Soon there were so many they couldn't all fit in one frame.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Eloping to Tampa outreach center, volunteers marry before homeless well-wishers 08/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 1:35am]
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