This Saturday, thousands of wreaths will be placed at gravesites of men and women who served in the nation's military. It's an annual program known as Wreaths Across America and, this year, it includes a handful of Western New York cemeteries.
Wreaths Across America began in 1992, founded by Morrill Worcester, who owns a wreath company in Maine. As a boy he visited Arlington National Cemetery. Years later, when his company found itself with a surplus of wreaths at the end of a holiday season, he decided to donate them to Arlington.
In the years since, the program has expanded to hundreds of cemeteries across the nation. This year, the program will lay hundreds of wreaths at Evergreen Cemetery in Eden.
"We felt the people who served in Eden deserve the same opportunity and the same honor," said Denise Kester, chief operating officer of Whirlwind Veterans and Warrior Retreat, which is bringing the program to Evergreen Cemetery.
Kester's husband is currently stationed with the U.S. Air Force in Alabama and she was on the base while speaking to WBFO about getting the word out to find sponsors of the wreaths. The public, she stated, came through.
"This was totally community and word of mouth and social media," Kester said. "One example I'll give that still brings me to tears, it was one lady who saw us in the Eden Pennysaver. She contacted me and said she doesn't get her Social Security until December 1, but she wanted to purchase a $15 wreath."
Among the graves to be decorated in Eden is that of Army Captain John Levulis, an Afghanistan veteran who was killed in May 2015 in a Humvee crash while traveling from Fort Drum to Fort Dix. The foundation named in his memory provided some of the funding for the Eden project.
Kester says the response to the Eden project resulted in more than 350 wreaths. They'll require 326 this Saturday and will send a small surplus to Arlington, which reportedly has a shortage. The success of the Eden project, according to her, will have them expand to gravesites in North Collins next year.
Wreaths will also be laid at gravesites in Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls but, according to the Wreaths Across America web page for that local project, sponsors were still sought for hundreds of the units there.
More than 5,000 wreaths, meanwhile, are expected to be placed at Bath National Cemetery.