PORTLAND – What started with a Maine wreath maker’s simple gesture of shipping excess wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery two decades ago continues to grow with wreaths being shipped to more than 800 locations to honor the military’s fallen men and women this holiday season.
A convoy of trucks departs Sunday from Worcester Wreath Co. in the eastern town of Harrington with balsam wreaths, 100,000 of which are will be displayed on headstones in Arlington. All told, 406,000 wreaths will be shipped to locations across the country, and abroad.
The tradition all began when Morrill Worcester ended up with 5,000 extra wreaths that he couldn’t bring to market in 1992. With the help of Sen. Olympia Snowe, he had them delivered to Arlington.
“We did it once because we thought it would be nice. We did from then forward because we thought it was the right thing to do,” said his wife, Karen Worcester, who’s executive director of Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization created to oversee distribution of the wreaths.
The tradition carried on in anonymity for more than a decade until photos of balsam wreaths with red bows in the snow-covered cemetery circulated online. Soon, hundreds of donors sought out Worcester, and community leaders sought out wreaths for their cemeteries.
Wreaths Across America now has a $6 million budget funded through donations from groups and individuals and through corporate sponsorships, and truckers and carriers donate their services.