Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Recently, St. Francis School in Clearfield found a unique way to become a part of a greater cause, and it was with the help of the community and a national non-profit that the students made it happen.
Principal Sheila Clancy said it began when the school was looking for something to add to its Veterans Celebration.
She wanted to get the students involved in a service project and learned that a family in the school, the Elbe family, has been involved in a program called Wreaths Across America.
WAA begin in 1992 when the owner of Worcester Wreath Co. of Maine found it had a surplus of wreaths that holiday season.
He contacted Sen. Olympia Snowe to make arrangements to place those wreaths in one of the oldest sections of Arlington Cemetery, an area that receives few visitors.
Volunteers and organizations became involved in decorating and transporting the wreaths, including having a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The project continued for several years until 2005 when a photo of the wreaths at the snowy cemetery went viral online.
The company received thousands of inquiries about bringing the tradition to other cemeteries, and what began as sending seven wreaths to each state grew until the Worcester family founded Wreaths Across America in 2007 with the mission of: Remember. Honor. Teach.
In 2014, more than 700,000 memorial wreaths were laid in 1,000 locations, including the Pearl Harbor Memorial, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the locations of the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedies. Arlington National Cemetery was covered with 226,525 wreaths.
St. Francis School decided to raise money to help lay wreaths at a local cemetery.
The only cemetery in Clearfield County that participates in WAA is the Beulah Cemetery in Ramey, and it’s only been able to lay, at most 28 wreaths, though the cemetery has 165 veterans buried there.
Clancy said the goal was to raise as much money as possible to help place some more wreaths, never dreaming that they would be able to raise enough money not only for 165 this year, but also the cemetery is about 30 wreaths to the good for next year.
The school students sold 230 T-shirts, including 200 to students and 30 to some of the drivers who volunteer to deliver the wreaths for WAA.
The school also worked with local organizations and clubs, including the Smithmill Veterans of Foreign Wars, to raise money.
Clancy said that the school worked to publicize the effort and when people learned about the project they wanted to help. She said the help of other organizations was crucial to make this happen.
Then, Kenneth Elbe, who is a truck driver for Tyson Foods and who has been a volunteer driver for WAA, made the trip to Maine with his 11-year-old daughter, Dehlia.
There, they met Morrill and Karen Worcester and Dehlia told them about the project and presented them with shirts. The shirts are green with a white and green camouflage motif for the letters SFS and white letters saying “God Bless our Veterans.”
Moved by the efforts of St. Francis’ students, the Worcester’s asked the Elbe family to go to Washington D.C. to participate in the wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington, and Dehlia had the honor of laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Saturday morning, Dec. 16, a convoy of trucks made its way to the cemetery with an opening ceremony at the Women in Military Service in America at 8:15 a.m.
The laying of wreaths across the cemetery began at 9:15 a.m. The cemetery was open to the public beginning at 8:30 a.m., so that people could watch the event.
And several special wreath layings occurred, including one at the columbarium at 10 a.m., the President William F. Taft monument at 10:30 a.m., the President John F. Kennedy memorial at 11 a.m., the USS Battleship Maine monument at 11:30 a.m., and finally the formal wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at 12 p.m., which was also the time other wreaths were laid at cemeteries across the nation and in other countries.
As each wreath was laid, the name of the veteran buried there was read aloud.
Because of the success of the fundraiser, and the response from community members, Clancy said this is just the beginning of St. Francis’ involvement.
First, students and their families were involved in laying wreaths at Beulah Cemetery Saturday at 12 p.m. And in the future, students will work to raise funds for WAA.
“I think we’ll most definitely continue with this,” she said.
Clancy said the wreath laying event is often covered by news organizations, such as CNN or FOX News.