TAMPA — Like most brides-to-be, Yolanda Kelsey wants everything to be perfect when she marries her dream guy next month, from the fuchsia and orange flowers to centerpieces that glow.
She knew the details wouldn't come cheap. But when the catering bill devoured her entire budget, she panicked.
Maybe she should have followed her fiance's advice? Maybe a courthouse wedding would suffice? Then she got creative.
A few keystrokes later, she launched a fundraising campaign on Twitter: @BuckforaBride. She figured people solicit for everything these days. Surely, some romantic souls would contribute to her happily ever after.
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Kelsey and Anthony Long met four years ago at a Tampa nightclub. After that, they ran into each other from time to time but never took the next step.
One night, they started talking. Long was going through a divorce. They kept each other's numbers.
Sixteen months later, they went on their first date, to see Perfect Stranger. Afterward, she had to go to Walmart. He said he would join her.
"A man that's willing to shop with me?" she said. "We've been inseparable since."
Long popped the question at a shopping mall in October 2009. A year later, he bought a house for them in Riverview. She started planning the wedding, set for Aug. 13.
Kelsey, 37, tried to save money where she could. She designed and ordered the invitations online. She hired a photographer and DJ through Craigslist. Long, a 42-year-old cement truck driver, made the gift card box out of picture frames.
But things got expensive. The budget for just the essentials ballooned from $5,000 to $12,000.
Kelsey, who works for the state's guardian ad litem program, made up the difference by tightening the budget at home. They ate in more. They stayed out of malls.
Still, she didn't have enough for everything. What about the videographer and wedding night hotel? Or the party bus for the bachelorette party?
Yes, she could live without them. But, no, she didn't want to. Both divorced, she and Long didn't have big weddings the first time around. They felt blessed to get a do-over.
"This is my final time," she said. "I want all the bells and whistles, but I didn't know it would cost so much."
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Several weeks ago, Kelsey set up @BuckforaBride with a photo of a svelte, headless bride in a white gown. "Support my campaign for wedding day bliss," she tweets.
She has tagged celebrity wedding planner David Tutera, Oprah Winfrey and local hotels in the hopes they will see her tweets and offer help. A few times a day, she posts updates to her 86 followers and counting.
As of Tuesday, Kelsey had received a total of $13. One woman offered to do her makeup in exchange for a mention in the wedding program. Kristen Kearns of Dreams by Design Events volunteered to take on the centerpieces. Newly married, she sympathized with Kelsey's situation and thought it would help her fledging business.
People are increasingly finding creative ways to raise money through Twitter and other social media. Jason Sadler of Jacksonville started I Wear Your Shirt to promote a different business sponsor every day. Ruth Carter set up Sponsor a Law Kid to help pay for her schooling at Arizona State University.
While some people might equate BuckforaBride to glamorized panhandling, others might see it as clever and inventive.
"It doesn't bother me if she's honest and telling people about it up front," said Regina McCombs, who teaches social and mobile journalism at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times. "It's no different than texting $10 to the Red Cross. It's your choice if you want to donate."
Kelsey doesn't expect to get rich and already feels grateful for the support she has received. If she has to, she'll grab a friend to videotape the ceremony and spend her wedding night at home.
Nothing can ruin her big day.
"No matter what happens, at the end of the night, I'm going to be his wife."