Doors – not china – on couple’s Habitat for Humanity gift list

NEW ORLEANS – Instead of receiving china, crystal and silver as wedding gifts, Leora Madden and Tony Gambell will accept nails, windows, doors, hinges and other building materials.

That’s because the engaged couple invited friends and family to purchase building materials for a Habitat for Humanity home as an alternative to traditional wedding gifts. Their bridal registry Web site – – is complete with a PayPal feature, and donations are tax-deductible.

“Tony’s involvement professionally and personally motivated us to register for a Habitat house,” Ms. Madden said. “We both have everything we need and felt this was an opportunity to give to others in a unique way.”

They hope to raise $50,000 in materials to sponsor a Habitat home in Bay St. Louis, Miss., Madden’s hometown, to be built sometime in 2009. “We’re going to help build the house we are raising money for, and I’m sure we’re going to get others to help us,” she said.

The couple announced on their Web site that they had “chosen to share some of the joy of our wedding with the Bay Waveland Habitat for Humanity.”

Since April when the Web site was posted, several thousand dollars in materials have been donated.

“Everyone has been very supportive and encouraging,” said Madden, 29. “My bridesmaids have commented that they can’t wait to pick out something for the house.”

Ms. Madden expects more donations before their Nov. 1 nuptials and has a commitment from the Salvation Army and Red Cross to donate the last $10,000 of materials.

“We’re going to raise as much money as we can through the wedding, and we’ll try to cover the rest,” she told the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the New Orleans Archdiocese.

Ms. Madden said she asked Habitat for Humanity International if the wedding idea had ever been done. “No one else to our knowledge has set up a Web site like this,” she said, “but there are people who are copying us, we’re happy to say.”

Ms. Madden, a Catholic, and Mr. Gambell, 32, who was raised Lutheran in Minnesota but now lives in Chicago, first met in California six years ago through a mutual friend. Mr. Gambell was in graduate school in Boston, and Ms. Madden was entering graduate school in Jackson, Miss. That initial meeting produced no sparks, but the two kept in touch through their friends.

Then in 2007, Ms. Madden moved to New Orleans, and Mr. Gambell e-mailed her that he was going to be in town helping build the 1,000th Habitat for Humanity home with former President Jimmy Carter and hoped to catch up.

At this juncture, they were at different stages in their lives.

Mr. Gambell had a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a business consultant and helped build approximately 33 Habitat homes during his free time since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Ms. Madden had earned a master’s degree with an emphasis in political science and history from the University of Southern Mississippi, and was enjoying her work as a regional tech specialist with MacMillan Publishing.

“Timing is everything,” Ms. Madden said. “God brings people together at a certain time for a certain reason. We truly believe that. It never would have worked when we first met.”

By October, five months later, Mr. Gambell proposed marriage at a Habitat house in Bay St. Louis that he helped build. He even corralled Habitat friends to present Ms. Madden with her favorite flower, Gerber daisies, after he popped the question.

“All of a sudden, he was on his knees,” Ms. Madden said. “I was in such shock and surprise that I didn’t fully understand what was happening. He said, ‘Since you won’t marry me at a Habitat house, would you get engaged to me at one?’ Of course, I said yes!”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.