Nearly 26,000 wreaths were laid at Barrancas National Cemetery for Wreaths Across America
For the past nine years, the Kiwanis Club of Big Lagoon-Pensacola has coordinated efforts to place thousands of memorial wreaths at Barrancas National Cemetery.
Inspired by the efforts of volunteers who began the program, the Kiwanis Club started by placing just over 3,000 wreaths on the gravesites in 2013. This year, they placed close to 26,000.
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“Our goal is to cover all of Barrancas,” said Craig McDonnell, Kiwanis Club Division 1 Lt. Governor. “If we got to 40,000 wreaths, we could do that.”
A $15 donation covers the cost of one memorial wreath. Dozens of volunteers work together to place the wreaths at the graves on Wreaths Across America Day, which falls on the third Saturday in December. Placement takes place early in the morning with volunteers covering the 100 acres of the cemetery. Volunteers do it all over again when they pick up the wreaths on January 14.
“We used to take pictures of the graves but it became too much,” said McDonnell. “You could walk the cemetery for days getting pictures.”
It’s a labor of love for the volunteers like McDonnell. He recalls one particular year when he was taken aback by a wife’s response.
“A lady was looking at her husband’s grave and asked if we placed the wreath there since she didn’t pay for it. I explained we try to put one at every grave,” McDonnell said. “She just threw her arms around me and cried.”
“It’s worth the miles of walking,” McDonnell added. “We do it to remember those who protected our country.”
Starting December 17 through January 14, the donation for one wreath will be matched by Wreaths Across America. The donated wreath will go to a grave that hasn’t been covered before.
National Wreaths Across America started in 1992 when the Maine-based company Worcester Wreath Company donated its surplus wreaths to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery. A 2005 photo of the gravesites gained national attention and inspired a nationwide effort.
Chapters like the Kiwanis Club of Big Lagoon-Pensacola help expand the mission.
“The mantra is remember, honor, and teach the children,” said McDonnell. “It’s such a beautiful event.”