A young woman who was born and raised on Pine Island had her dream wedding on Fort Myers Beach last Friday, thanks to Operation Open Arms.
Sgt. Gabriel Lopez of the United States Army and Caitlin Holloway met at Ida Baker High School their freshman year of high school.
Gabby was the first guy that Caitlin met in high school. She said since they were always around each other they became best friends. Her father would not let her date until she was 16 years old, which eventually made Gabby her first boyfriend.
Caitlin Holloway and Sgt. Gabriel Lopez of the United States Army were married on Dec. 9 at Pink Shell on Fort Myers Beach. The entire wedding and honeymoon were free for the couple thanks to Operation Open Arms. The couple met while students at Ida Baker High School.
Caitlin said that her family could not give her a big fairy tale wedding, so she decided to email Capt. John "GiddyUp" Bunch, founder of Operation Open Arms, one day, so she could ask if he could do something special for Gabby for the wedding that she and her family had planned. Caitlin said Bunch took it one step further and said, "Why don't I do the wedding?"
"It means everything to me," Caitlin said about the wedding. "He proposed to me last Christmas and it has been a whirlwind of a year."
Rhonda, her mother, said Bunch gave her a business card a couple years back at Publix where she was a cashier. She said when she told him she was getting married he offered to give her a wedding through Operation Open Arms.
"It is a tremendous opportunity," she said about the wedding, adding that since they work for the school district they could not have given their daughter a wedding at that scale. "It's going to be a fairytale wedding."
Bunch first met Caitlin at the Publix on Pine Island Road and Burnt Store Road more than three years ago when he went through her checkout line.
"This is a follow-up of going into the Publix supermarket line 3 1/2 years ago," he said. "Caitlin remembered Operation Open Arms and my pledge to her to take care of her and her husband if we were still in business and seven years later we still are."
Rhonda said 4 1/2 years later her daughter tied the knot with her high school sweetheart.
"I feel like I am on the 'Oprah Winfrey Show,'" Caitlin said. "I have really been truly blessed."
Bunch said his organization provided the first free wedding for a soldier and his fiance in 2005.
"I start with the honeymoon and go backwards," he said about how he plans the wedding. "This particular style has afforded me countless perfect weddings."
Bunch said one of the things that the organization likes to do is help make a better life for the young women and men who are serving this country with multiple deployments. By planning a wedding at no cost to the couple, he said it provides them with the opportunity for a down payment on a house or put money away to start a family.
Each Operation Open Arms wedding is worth a minimum of $15,000.
Caitlin and Gabby's wedding was the 90th the organization has planned and put on since 2005. The couple's wedding took place on Fort Myers Beach at the Pink Shell on Dec. 9 approximately 45-minutes before the sun went down.
Their honeymoon was spent at a condo on Fort Myers Beach for six nights, along with a night in Key West due to the Key West Express.
"It's very exciting," she said before her wedding day.
"I am adding a little bit of punching power to Caitlin's wedding because anyone from Pine Island deserves the best," Bunch said.
Rhonda said her husband is a fourth generation Holloway who was born on Pine Island. She managed Pine Island Travel and worked there for 13 years before she began working at Ida Baker High School after Hurricane Charley hit the area.
She said her husband was a commercial fisherman before he got into construction for many years. When the economy took a turn for the worse, he also started working at Ida Baker High School.
Since the Holloway's both work at Ida Baker High School they now live in Cape Coral.
The newlyweds will head back to Tacoma, Wash., at the Fort Lewis base on Jan. 2. Gabby joined the service in 2008 and has re-enlisted for his second tour in Afghanistan early next year.