Honoring Our Fallen at Arlington
For Washington, D.C., native Ramiro “Robin” Peñaherrera, Memorial Day has always been about more than just picnics and barbecues. “I have five members of my family buried in Arlington National Cemetery — from the Spanish American War all the way to World War II,” he says. “It’s important to me.”
In May 2011, he was looking for some way to give back. Peñaherrera, who works as a flower grower in Ecuador, had an idea. “Memorial Day used to be called Decoration Day,” he says. “After the Civil War, people would go to the graves and decorate them with flowers.”
Peñaherrera met with two other Ecuador-based U.S. flower growers, and together they were able to coordinate a massive donation of fresh flowers. “I called up the administration in Arlington and said, ‘We’ve got 10,000 roses for you, for Memorial Day.’” And they happily accepted the offer.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation had its start.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation — 2017 Facts
- More than 80 farms, importers and wholesalers from the U.S. and other countries will contribute flowers.
- Over 300,000 flowers will be placed on the graves of soldiers at 17 National and Veteran cemeteries around the country.
- Three thousand bouquets will be given to families of fallen soldiers at the cemeteries and at numerous events across the U.S.
- At least 600 volunteers will place flowers on graves at the Arlington National Cemetery.
These days, the foundation sources flowers from 80 to 90 farms, including farms in Ecuador, Colombia, California and Ethiopia. It receives additional support from flower growers’ associations both at home and abroad: PRO ECUADOR in Ecuador, ASOCOLFLORES in Colombia and CalFlowers in the U.S.
That cooperation and dedication has paid off. The Memorial Day Flowers Foundation’s impact has grown every year — from that initial donation of 10,000 roses in 2011 at Arlington National Cemetery to 300,000 flowers distributed at 17 cemeteries and multiple Memorial Day events around the country in 2017.
“We have Scouts and other volunteers place a rose in front of every headstone, and volunteers quietly read every headstone. It’s a very personal tribute.”
— Ramiro “Robin” Peñaherrera
Founder, Memorial Day Flowers Foundation
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation also coordinates with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to provide bouquets to children who have lost one or both parents to war. This year, another 500 bouquets will be given to TAPS family members.
In all, 600 volunteers, including Boy Scouts, will come to Washington to show their gratitude to fallen veterans. “We have Scouts and other volunteers place a rose in front of every headstone, and volunteers quietly read every headstone,” Peñaherrera says. This moment of reflection and remembrance is important. “It’s a very personal tribute.”
The effort also goes well beyond Arlington. Since 2013, the foundation has worked with florists and retailers across the U.S. The group encourages them to honor military heroes in their own communities by providing flowers to hand out from neighborhood storefronts or at local ceremonies, parades or cemeteries.
Memorial Day Flowers Foundation works with FedEx to distribute a Memorial Day Flowers kit to any interested brick-and-mortar retailer at below market cost. For $250, a business receives 250 export-quality fresh roses shipped directly from the farm, as well as a banner and 250 flyers.
It’s a great way for small businesses to show their patriotism and to get to know their customers. “It’s a fantastic way to honor those who served and to connect,” Peñaherrera says.
For Peñaherrera, Romero and their partnering board members, Johan Sohn, Dean Rule and Benito Jaramillo, the ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery is a heartfelt reminder of just what flowers can mean to people — and what it means to honor the sacrifices of U.S. military members and their families.
“For me, it’s really rewarding to see people’s response. You really feel you are doing something,” Peñaherrera says. “People are constantly crying. Heck, we’re constantly crying. It’s very moving.”
For more information on the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, go to the website.
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