Danger of a flower shortage at Arlington National Cemetery over Memorial Day has been averted, according to a nonprofit group that has been placing the floral tributes since 2011.
When The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation published a statement earlier this month, corporate sponsorship was down. The foundation had raised just 10% of the funds it needed, and had gathered barely 50,000 of the hoped-for 310,000 flowers required to properly observe Memorial Day.
"We were desperate," said Bernardo Beate, MDFF's director of operations, in a phone interview Wednesday.
But since the group raised the alarm, cash donations have risen to 50% of what it says it needs for the Memorial Day weekend, and the organization now has more than 200,000 flowers pledged. The potential shortage of flowers was first reported by Military Times last week.
"The generosity from people and from donors has been overwhelming," Beate said.
Since 2011, the group has organized an annual event to commemorate military service and remember fallen troops during Memorial Day. Tens of thousands of flowers are donated and delivered in this way.
The group also organizes similar events at other cemeteries across the country including Fort Logan National Cemetery, Fort Custer National Cemetery, and five others.
The flowers placed on graves at Arlington to honor the sacrifices made by troops often originate farther south -- much farther south. Alongside grassroots fundraising efforts, the nonprofit's board is active with partners and friends in the Miami flower import community, most of whom are Latinos.
Ramiro Penaherrera, the group's executive director, said that 85% of flowers that come into the U.S. from South America do so through Miami.
"It's a huge hub for the trade, and helping commemorate fallen American servicemen and servicewomen is a great source of pride for our community," he said.
Penaherrera has a more personal connection to Arlington -- his great-grand uncle is buried there. "He was a Wagoneer. He served in World War I," Penaherrera said.
Whether one has family buried in Arlington or not, the laying of flowers on Memorial Day is a special and solemn experience for many Americans. The group said it depends on volunteers to make it happen each year.
"We ask volunteers to place the flowers in front of the headstone, to read the inscription, and take a few moments to thank the veteran buried there for their service," said Beate.
People go from grave to grave, laying flowers and -- as Beate explained it -- connect with that service member's act of sacrifice, or the contribution they made to a safer country and world, for those who were not killed in action. "It's an amazing experience."
In addition, people who attend will have an opportunity to place flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to every service member in every war who goes unburied, whose family never knows what happened to them.
Now, all that is left to do is the placing. "What we need now are volunteers from the general public," Beate said. "We have the flowers; now, we need people to lay them at the gravesites."
People interested in volunteering can go to Arlington National Cemetery on May 28 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
-- Adrian Bonenberger, an Army veteran and graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, reports for Military.com.