SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Back in October, students, parents, and staff at John F. Kennedy Elementary launched a school wide fundraising group in support of Wreaths Across America (WWA).

A national non-profit organization, WWA’s mission is to ‘to remember’ fallen U.S. veterans, ‘honor’ those who serve, and ‘teach’ children the value of freedom. Each year on the second or third Saturday in December, thousands of wreaths are laid on the graves of fallen heroes laid to rest throughout the country and beyond. The contributions from Kennedy School will provide for 38 wreaths to be laid Dec. 16 at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Wreaths Across America is committed to teaching younger generations about the value of their freedoms and the importance of honoring those who sacrificed so much to protect those freedoms,” said Kennedy teacher Lisa desRanleau who, along with fellow second grade teacher Kathy Wharton organized the initiative. 

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To raise money to sponsor the wreaths, Kennedy held various fundraisers, including school spirit days and classroom competitions. Additionally, personal contributions in support of the initiative came in with the school collecting a little over $570.

“This idea came to us because we wanted to revise our Veteran’s Day celebration to encompass the South Plainfield community and our students,” said Wharton. “Our students and their families were extremely generous with the donations for Wreaths Across America. We are hoping to be able to provide even more wreaths for our veterans next year.”

The wreath-laying initiative began in 1992 as a personal tribute from the family-run Worchester Wreath Company in Maine to military veterans who gave their lives for this country. Finding themselves with a surplus of wreaths, the family quietly made wreath donations to Arlington National Cemetery and continued doing so quietly for nearly 15 years before a photo of the wreaths on snow-covered graves went viral in 2006.

Shortly thereafter, Worcester Wreath began receiving unsolicited money from people who were touched by the wreaths and what they represented, and who wanted to participate by sponsoring wreaths themselves. The company returned the money to donors because there was no mechanism in place to accept the donations at that time. In 2006, the family continued to give and, at the requests made to them through thousands of emails, sent seven ceremonial wreaths — one for each branch of the military plus POW/MIA – to well 100 locations.

By the following year, the company had received thousands of requests to help with wreath donations and the Worchester family worked with those involved at Arlington National Cemetery to set up the non-profit organization WWA to accommodate and honor the spirit of the donations.

In 2008, over 300 locations held wreath-laying ceremonies in every state, Puerto Rico and 24 overseas cemeteries with over 100,000 wreaths placed on veterans’ graves. In 2014, WWA and its national network of volunteers laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites if the September 11 tragedies. The organization's goal of covering Arlington National Cemetery was also met that year with the placement of 226,525 wreaths.

Each year, Worcester Wreath continues its tradition of donating wreaths as well as producing sponsored wreaths at a discounted market price. The Worcester family also continues to donate ceremonial wreaths to any location that wants to hold a WWA ceremony.

Additionally, WAA makes an annual pilgrimage from Harrington, Maine to Arlington National Cemetery, stopping at schools, monuments, veterans’ homes, and communities all along the way to remind people how important it is to ‘remember,’ ‘honor’ and ‘teach.’

Kennedy Principal Kevin Hajduk said his goal is to not only make the Wreaths Across America initiative an annual fundraising effort but to also see the school become a stop on the organization’s route.

“All throughout the year, Wreaths Across America works in a number of ways to show our veterans and their families that we will not forget-we will never forget and I am grateful to Mrs. Wharton and Mrs. desRanleau for their vision and willingness to begin this initiative at our school,” said Hajduk. “Our goal is to not only make the Wreaths Across America initiative an annual fundraising event here, but to also hopefully make Kennedy one of the stops on the organization’s convey to Virginia.”

For additional information, visit the Wreaths Across America website at www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.

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