For months, Lola Johnson had been looking forward to finally walking down the aisle in the lavish wedding she never had.
“When me and my husband got married [in 1979] we were really young and didn’t have money to have a big wedding,” Johnson, 62, tells PEOPLE. “I’ve always talked about doing our wedding over, they know I’ve always wanted a wedding so they tried to do it.”
Just weeks before the Dec. 16 ceremony, a massive blaze ripped through Johnson’s apartment building, badly damaging her home and destroying her wedding dress, her husband’s tuxedo and even damaging their nearby wedding venue. More than 150 firefighters battled the blaze, according to the Associated Press. At least nine people were injured in the fire and nearly two dozen families were displaced. Johnson and her husband have been living in a shelter since.
Johnson says she was at work when the fire broke out, and her husband, 66-year-old Hemsley, made it out of the building safely. And while she was grateful for her family’s safety, Johnson says she was “devastated” when she realized she may not be able to have her wedding.
Her children, however, were determined to help her realize her dream.
“We really still wanted to plan this for my mom and dad. We’re definitely concerned that they need a place to live … but we were like, ‘In all of this cloud and rain, let’s give a little bit of sunshine,’ ” Johnson’s daughter, Octavia, tells PEOPLE. “We still wanted to celebrate family, and still wanted to celebrate their love.”
With just weeks to replace all they had lost, Octavia and her siblings got to work. According to Octavia, the events that followed were nothing short of a miracle. She says she reached out to online bridal boutique Azazie and explained her mother’s situation.
“They were so kind to donate my mom’s wedding dress!” Octavia says of the company. “It was the dress that my mom wanted. Exactly what she wanted! Lace sleeves … it fits her body the way she feels comfortable,” Octavia gushes. “I took that as a sign to keep going, because this is one open door that means there’s another one and it just so happens there was another one and another one!”
She adds: “Those two things, the dress and the suit, were really the biggest signs and that’s what kept us going.”
Octavia says she went to a local Men’s Warehouse, where staff donated a new suit for her father to wear to the wedding. As for the venue, the family managed to book the massive ballroom at Castle Royale in Yonkers — which Octavia says was three times bigger than the original location.
“There’s no way to put into words how we had a little bit of faith and it multiplied by a thousand,” Octavia says. “Everything just kept getting bigger and bigger … Everybody was so kind.”
When the big day came, the bride says it was more wonderful than she imagined.
“Oh my god, it was beautiful!” Johnson tells PEOPLE. “My children, they did a wonderful job.”
Photos of the ceremony showed Johnson and Hemsley sporting wide smiles as they stood surrounded by family and friends at the altar. The couple’s children all posed for pictures as well. Johnson says her favorite part of the ceremony came when she approached the aisle to see her children standing with their families.
“It was so touching. It was beautiful. So nice and peaceful, so relaxing,” she tells PEOPLE of the ceremony. “The cake was beautiful and I really enjoyed myself.”
As for Hemsley, Johnson says he “loved it and he enjoyed himself.” Octavia adds that her father did something he usually doesn’t do: “He danced!”
“He doesn’t dance for nobody. My dad is so introverted, he’s so shy so he doesn’t like the spotlight on him. So to see him grab my mom’s hand, we were like, ‘Whoa!’ It’s like a miracle. This whole things has just been a dream come true.”