Wreaths Across America: 5,000 wreaths to 1,500,000

Elizabeth Howe
November 06, 2018 - 10:28 am

Photo courtesy of Wreaths Across America

Last year, two million volunteers placed wreaths at cemeteries across the country as part of Wreaths Across America — so it might be hard to believe that it all started with a wreath farm in Maine and the Worcester family. 

"It's giving us too much credit to say that we actually developed it," said Karen Worcester, executive director of Wreaths Across America.

"It came to be in 1992," Worcester said. "Our family had been in the wreath business forever. We had a surplus of wreaths that year, and my husband recalled a trip that he had won as a twelve-year-old paper boy to Arlington National Cemetery. Being a very patriotic man and very grateful for all that our family had, he thought it would be a nice way for our family to say thank you if he could take some of those surplus wreaths down to Arlington and place them on the graves of veterans."

It took some phone calls to get permission, but the Worcester's got permission to take 5,000 wreaths to place on graves at Arlington National Cemetery that year. 

"It changed our lives," Worcester said. "You just couldn't help but read the name as you placed the wreath. It was such a personal thing, so we did it for years and years."

The Worcester's continued to bring wreaths to Arlington each year with a team of roughly ten volunteers. It wasn't until 2005, with the help of a Pentagon photographer, that the Worcester's project went viral. 

"It was 2005, and a Pentagon photographer took a picture of what we were doing. It went viral. It changed life quite drastically," Worcester said. "By January of 2006, my husband, who to this day has never answered an email, had literally four or five thousand emails from people wanting to get involved and people wanting to share their stories — military families, Gold Star families, veterans."

From there, the Worcester's family project grew into the national event that Wreaths Across America is today. Last year, two million volunteers placed over 1.5 million wreaths at 1,400 locations. There were 90,000 volunteers placing wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery alone. And Wreaths Across America continues to grow. 

"I get a lot of questions about our business plan, and we really don't have one," Worcester said. "We grow at about 30 percent every year because when people go and participate, place a wreath, read that name, and make that connection they want to do it again. So, many times, they'll go to a place like Arlington and then go back where they live and take it to their own cemetery."

Still, Wreaths Across America always needs more volunteers. 

"We need volunteers to place wreaths, but we also need volunteers to sponsor the wreaths," Worcester said. "One of the largest areas of growth that we have is giving the gift of remembrance...About 90 percent of the wreaths we place are sponsored by a family member who can't get to a cemetery to place a wreath." 

Sign up to sponsor a wreath or volunteer to place wreaths for this year's Wreaths Across America on Dec. 15 at wreathsacrossamerica.org.

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