Wedding bells soon will ring for five lucky couples – one of which has ties to Havelock — thanks to an organization that will give them nuptials for free.
Operation Marry Me provides all catering, florists, photographers, facilities, among other gifts. Entries were due in July in time for Veteran’s Day weddings on Nov. 11.
Operation Marry Me is a collective of North Carolina counties that joined forces to offer free weddings to service members every year on Veterans Day, according to the company’s website.
For Patrick Ezel of New Bern, winning the contest was something he thought was a long shot because he’s never won anything in his life, he said.
The journey to winning began for the couple one night when his fiancée, Michelle Zaccardelli, who is from Havelock, was in bed surfing Facebook. She saw an ad and figured she would apply, she said.
“Life went back to normal after we applied — we didn’t hold our breath,” Zaccardelli said. “But now, we get to plan our honeymoon cruise to the Bahamas.”
Zaccardelli and Ezel thought they were only finalists and did a Skype interview. To their surprise, they were told at the end of the interview that they had in fact won the contest.
“We answered all sorts of questions like how this would change our lives and about how we met and then they told us we were the winners for Craven County,” Zaccardelli said. “We were totally blown away and taken by surprise.”
The couple is “ecstatic” about their New Bern wedding at Tryon Palace. With 48 guests, the couple will exchange nuptials and look forward to a lifetime of playing board games and enjoying each other’s company, Ezel said.
“We couldn’t be more thankful for this great opportunity,” Ezel said. “It’s beyond our expectations. It’s such a great thing to provide this opportunity to military members and their families.”
Ashley Lanier, 28, of Jacksonville, postmarked her entry for the contest on the final day.
“Winning is a big weight off of our shoulders,” she said. “This is going to allow us to enjoy everything. So many people don’t get that pleasure. We are truly grateful for this experience.”
Lanier was already planning a wedding when she entered the contest.
“Believe it or not, I actually had a pretty good gut feeling that we had a chance when I submitted my application,” she said Lanier. “I felt as though there was something special about this wedding. I made sure not to make any plans for our wedding until we found out if we had won.”
Now that she knows she won, Lanier is preparing her daughter to be the flower girl during the ceremony at South Harbor Wedding Chapel in Southport, she said.
“She’s my princes, so being the flower girl is the perfect role for her,” said Lanier, who met her fiancé eight months ago. “After all, it’s the three of ours’ wedding.”
The couple has not decided on a honeymoon destination, and they may very well wait, said Lanier.
“We’re elated and in shock,” said Lanier, who found out about winning the contest on Friday. “All I can do is thank them for this. It’s going to be a fairytale wedding — the one my Barbie’s wished they could have had.”
Samantha Prillwitz and Bryce Forth of Jacksonville couldn’t have asked for a better surprise at the end of their Skype interview, she said.
“I thought it was one of the required parts to applying,” Prillwitz, 24, said. “I never thought I’d have an opportunity to bring together the entire family for such a beautiful wedding.”
Prillwitz said she can’t help but feel relieved now that the stress of planning a wedding is lifted from her shoulders.
“All I have to do is find a dress,” said Prillwitz, whose son will be the ring bearer in their wedding. “Them giving us this opportunity — all I can say is thank you because you’ve made my dreams come true.”
Already engaged and planning a wedding prior to applying for the contest, Sarah Metallo, of Richlands and Nicolas Trager, of Camp Geiger hoped and prayed they would win but didn’t expect it, she said.
“A wedding is very intimidating,” Metallo said. “The sense of relief I feel right now is indescribable. It was such a big blessing for us to receive this gift and I want to thank people for their generosity from the bottom of my heart.”
The final winners were Nikki Seegars and Aaron Ambrosino of Charlotte.
For more information of Operation Marry Me, go online to www.operationmmm.com.