PORTLAND — Despite the possibility of scaling back this year’s shipment to Arlington National Cemetery, a Maine wreath maker is already making plans to double the number of wreaths next year for the cemetery’s 150th anniversary.
All told, Wreaths Across America expects to ship 470,000 to 500,000 wreaths this month to veterans’ graves in more than 900 locations. Starting Sunday, 11 trucks will begin rolling toward Arlington.
Next year, the organization wants to place a wreath on every headstone – about 230,000 of them – at Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington, D.C.
“We want people to stop amid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to remember our veterans and their families because there are empty seats at the table at all of these family gatherings. Some are deployed. Some paid the ultimate sacrifice,” said Tobin Flavin, a spokesman for Wreaths Across America.
This month, the wreaths are being shipped to 909 locations, including 24 on foreign soil. The overall numbers will be up by about 12 percent to 20 percent, even though numbers at Arlington may be down slightly, Flavin said.
Based in Columbia Falls, Wreaths Across America now has a $5 million budget funded through donations from groups and individuals and through corporate sponsorships. Truckers and carriers donate their services to help distribute the wreaths, said Karen Worcester, executive director of Worcester Wreath Co. in Harrington.
The wreath-laying tradition began in 1992, when her husband, Morrill Worcester, ended up with 5,000 extra wreaths, which he shipped to Arlington National Cemetery.
The tradition carried on in relative anonymity for more than a decade until photos of balsam wreaths with red bows in the snow-covered cemetery circulated online.
Soon, donors were seeking out Worcester, and people began asking for wreaths for their local cemeteries.
Arlington National Cemetery remains the focal point of the annual effort. Worcester said it’s moving to hear from families about how much the wreaths mean to them.
There’s a vast sea of white tombstones and green wreaths. But that’s not the way Worcester sees it. She sees them as individuals, with individual stories of sacrifice.
“It’s so important that we remember that these men and women died so we can argue politics, live freely and worship the way we want,” she said.