National Wreaths Across America Day fall on Saturday, the day when volunteers lay holiday wreaths at U.S. military veterans’ graves. This year, the pandemic posed a fundraising challenge and in some cases, volunteers plan to collect donations right up to the 19th to get enough wreaths.
But for the Geer family in Cambridge, the pandemic has been a boost, spurring them on to collect enough donations to honor nearly 500 fallen service members buried in four cities along the Chesapeake Bay.
“It’s all about the spirit of my grandfather and what he would have done,” said Sarah Geer. She is the proud granddaughter of a U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II. Her husband’s grandfather was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. Both men have passed away, but their influence is
partially why the family started a Wreath Across America (WAA) fundraising group called “Trevor’s Heroes.”
The other reason is the family’s 10 -year-old son, Trevor. He attended his first wreath laying ceremony at the Eastern Shore Veterans Cemetery four years ago. Although he was about six years old at the time, Trevor recalls being upset that some tombstones were skipped over. “The people who fought for us is what made the country what it is today, and they don’t deserve to be treated horribly and don’t get a wreath,” he says.
In the past two years, they raised enough money to buy 90 $15 wreaths by selling lemonade, Trevor’s old toys, and anything else the family could think of. This year they set their goal for a hundred wreaths. But then the coronavirus shut down large gatherings.
“Everything has been a cascading effect,” says Jill Harris, a coordinator for Crownsville Veterans Cemetery. Harris said many of their fundraising groups have been shut down for most of the year.
As of Tuesday, WAA’s online tally shows Crownsville has around 60 percent wreath coverage. Harris said normally the cemetery would have reached more than 80 percent by this time.
Baltimore National Cemetery Coordinator Sherry McManus says, “Groups that we had helping in years past, we’ve reached out to them this year and sadly we haven’t heard back from them.”
McManus said this year she expects to have wreaths for about a third of the cemetery’s 37 thousand veteran graves.
The Geers found their success by innovating. “For us, it’s been a blessing in disguise because even though we couldn’t do our normal fundraising with yard sales and our lemonade stands, this year my mom had actually bought some small craft things for kids and we bundled them together,” says Sarah Geer. “I put them out on social media and people bought them. We took that money and put them towards the wreaths.”
One move quickly led to another—Geer’s aunt applied for a grant from a charity that holds bingo nights in Cambridge and got a check for $2,500.
“We freaked out because we were like ‘Oh my gosh, that is more than we had ever raised before,’” said Geer.
Buoyed by that piece of luck, she began emailing businesses in her community. “I got on their grants website and I’m like apply, apply, apply.” Sam’s Club answered with a check for $1,500, and Choptank Transport in Preston also donated $75.
Together with WAA’s match program, Trevor’s Heroes has helped buy 452 wreaths.
Thanks to Trevor’s Heroes and surplus funds from previous years, Eastern Shore’s coordinator Lynn Riley says the veterans cemetery will have enough wreaths come Saturday. The news means a lot to the Geers whose grandfather—the former U.S. Coast Guard member—is buried there.
But Sarah and her family didn’t stop there. They also got a donation of 30 wreaths from Mowbray’s Garden Center. The Geers plan to give the wreaths to private cemeteries in Pocomoke and Brookview, Maryland as well as to a graveyard in Franklin City, Virginia where Sarah’s father was laid to
Sarah explains, “Just because they’re not in a veterans cemetery doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honored.”