Wreaths Across America

Seventy-year-old Pat Minnick is just one of Prime’s many drivers, but she’s among the group of drivers who went to Arlington National Cemetery in 2014 as a volunteer for Wreaths Across America. She says the people at the wreath-laying ceremony were the highlight of her visit. “They were so gracious and so wonderful,” Minnick says.

But Arlington wasn’t the first trip Minnick made to support the cause. Before Prime officially partnered with the nonprofit organization, Minnick was on the road hauling wreaths. She had read about Wreaths Across America in USA Today in 2007, and she knew it was a way she could give back. In this case, she says, it was a way she could pay tribute to the men and women who gave their lives for the United States.

Minnick Initiates A New Partnership

Minnick owned her own truck, but she was missing one crucial element—a trailer. So she asked Prime if they would let her borrow one and to her surprise, the company said yes. In December 2007, Minnick hitched up a trailer with “Prime Floral” emblazoned on the side and started her journey to Harrington, Maine (the home of Wreaths Across America) to pick up her load of wreaths. Then, she was off to Fort Bliss, outside of El Paso, Texas.

Since then, she’s been back to Fort Bliss many times and to Arlington once. Minnick says she’s taken a year off here and there since 2007 but plans to return to Arlington again this year. Long before Minnick took that first voyage, Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company, had made a trip to Arlington National Cemetery when he was 12 years old. On that trip, a seed of an idea was planted that later grew into Wreaths Across America.

In 1992, Worcester Wreath Company had a surplus of wreaths. Worcester decided there was an opportunity to honor veterans in the national cemetery. Decorations were laid on each grave quietly until 2005, when a photo of the wreaths covered in snow started circulating on the internet. By 2007, the organization Wreaths Across America was officially formed and working to spread its mission of remember, honor, teach: remember our fallen U.S. veterans, honor those who serve and teach your children the value of freedom.

In 2008, wreath-laying ceremonies took place in more than 300 cemeteries across the United States and Puerto Rico, plus 24 overseas cemeteries. The U.S. Congress even officially named December 13, 2008, the first Wreaths Across America Day. Over the years, the effort has expanded to include more decorations in more cemeteries. So Wreaths Across America’s need for trucking support has grown as more drivers are needed to deliver wreaths to wreath-laying ceremonies. So Prime stepped in to lend a helping hand.

Prime Partners with Wreaths Across America

Andrea Mueller, Prime’s Coordinator for Wreaths Across America, says the company started working with the nonprofit around 2010 by providing volunteer drivers to deliver to Arlington and other cemeteries across the nation.

Prime delivers 10 to 20 loads of wreaths each year, Mueller says, all with the help of its drivers. But all employees can help out. Anyone can donate to purchase wreaths and also participate in wreath-laying ceremonies, she says. Wreath-laying ceremonies take place all over the country, and associates can find out about the ceremonies close to them by visiting the Wreaths Across America website, wreathsacrossamerica.org.

Many of the drivers who have delivered wreaths have close connections to a veteran, but plenty are veterans themselves, like Jerome Lobo. Lobo served in the U.S. Army. He put his name in the hat as a trucking volunteer last year and took his first Wreaths Across America trip in December 2015. During his trip, he traveled through Missouri delivering wreaths and attending ceremonies.

Those ceremonies made him think of his cousin’s service during the Vietnam War. Much of the country disagreed with getting involved in Vietnam, he says, and the soldiers who fought didn’t get the hero’s welcome past veterans had received. Depression was very real for his cousin and others like him, and Lobo says his cousin later died after his return home. But the most moving part for Lobo came at his last stop at the National Veterans Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri. There, he saw the graves of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers and says he was taken back in time. “That’s history,” Lobo says. “And that’s something I want my kids to see.” Even more than the history was the need to remember the soldiers who gave their lives doing their duties, he says.

Remembering from the Road

The need to remember drives Minnick to keep volunteering hours and miles in her rig. She says when she first decided to volunteer, she loved that she could do something small for them. “This was a brilliant, wonderful thing,” Minnick says. “This can make a difference. Not a big difference, but a little one.” On one of her trips to Texas, she was able to see and feel the impact her volunteerism makes.

Minnick met a military convoy merging onto the interstate outside Fort Sill in the early 2010s. At the time, the U.S. was heavily involved in the Iraq War, and soldiers were loaded in Jeeps and other vehicles speeding down the highway. Minnick says as she moved into the passing lane to give the convoy room, she started seeing heads and arms popping out of windows as they passed her trailer. The words Wreaths Across America were written on either side, she says, and there was a wreath on the front of the truck.

Some soldiers gave her a thumbs up, others smiled and still others cheered.  It served as a reminder to Minnick why she volunteers her truck and her time. “At least they knew somebody cares,” she says.But one question was heavy on her mind. “I wondered how many of them got a wreath the next year,” she says.

She might never know the answer to that question, but for both her and Lobo, it’s about the big picture—honoring those who were called to serve. “We are not forgetting those who paid the ultimate price,” Lobo says. “We’re still about America.”

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