ENGLEWOOD — With the help of generous donors, the historic Lemon Bay Cemetery has 200 percent of the wreaths needed to lay at grave sites at an upcoming veterans ceremony.
With less than a month to plan, Englewood resident Deb Ainsworth was asked by the Wreaths Across America national organization to oversee a wreath ceremony at the historic cemetery, 500 S. Indiana Ave. She agreed. Now she’s finalizing details for a ceremony for the national event.
Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit organization that sells and sends out truckloads of Christmas wreaths each year to cemeteries across the country. Local organizations raise money for wreaths, then plan ceremonies and gather volunteers to place the wreaths at the graves of veterans on Dec. 15.
Members of the Englewood, Florida Chamber of Commerce have also stepped in to help.
“I am meeting with Ed Hill (executive director of the chamber) next week at the cemetery,” Ainsworth said. “I’ve also been in touch with some people from the chamber Mary Smedley and (local wreaths program facilitator) Steve King and they’ve been very willing to work with me.
“That’s one reason why I don’t understand why this has been challenging for people to coordinate over the past couple years,” she said. “People are very eager to help. Steve (King) said he would find me someone to play Taps at the ceremony. He offered to have a crew there ahead of time to help unload the wreaths. It’s been great... I want to keep it very simple this year. Then next year, I will work on a larger-scale ceremony because I will have more time to plan. I’m working with the Lemon Bay High School ROTC but they are already doing something first thing in the morning on that day.”
Because there’s an abundance of wreaths at the historic cemetery, Ainsworth has a few options. She’s allowed to get credit for new ones for next year’s Wreaths Across America ceremony. She can also donate them to a local cemetery in need of wreaths.
“I would have to get permission from donors,” she said. “I do know that Gulf Pines cemetery (in Englewood) is about 500 wreaths short according to Wreaths Across America. I would have to get everything in order on my end and then offer them to Gulf Pine Memorial Park cemetery. I’m still working on everything.”
According to the Wreaths Across America website, which is updated frequently, there were 1,500 wreaths needed at Gulf Pines cemetery with 1,383 already paid by donors. Englewood resident Nancy Carstens is the official coordinator for that cemetery. Last year, only 268 wreaths were purchased.
Like last year, Carstens planned on having small American flags placed near veteran gravesites without wreaths at Gulf Pines Memorial Park, 2401 Englewood Road. However, she may not need to do that if the 117 wreaths are donated from the historic cemetery.
Both ceremonies are scheduled at noon on Dec. 15 and are open to the public. Wreaths will be laid on veteran grave stones by volunteers after each ceremony.
“If there are any family members that present, they will have the time to place wreaths on their beloved graves before anyone else,” Ainsworth said. “I will be there around 11 if any of the families want to come early and speak to me.”
For more information or to volunteer visit: www.wreathsacrossamerica.org.