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A Florist Makes It Her Mission to Bring Widows Joy on Valentine’s Day

Ashley Manning noticed who wasn’t getting flowers on Valentine’s Day and found a way to fix it

Video: Florist Ensures Widows Remembered on Valentine’s Day

When you hand a person flowers, they smile, says Ashley Manning, a pharmaceutical rep turned florist, who started a program that gives widows flowers on Valentine’s Day.  

“It could be congratulations, it could be sorry for your loss, but it’s just such a neat thing to give somebody something and see their reaction — like a genuine reaction of gratitude,” Manning says.

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It was this bit of joy she saw time and again on the faces of those receiving flowers that got her thinking: What about all the people who don’t get to experience the happiness that comes from someone handing them a beautiful bouquet?

When the flowers stop coming

Manning, based in Charlotte, NC, says the moment she realized her “divine” mission was when she brought flowers to her son’s preschool teacher for Valentine’s Day in 2020; the teacher had lost her husband to cancer not long before. The teacher’s appreciation that someone recognized her feelings “planted a seed” with Manning to do something special specifically for widows the following year.

“You could tell how heartbroken she still was to have lost him. She just thanked me and I could tell how much it meant to her,” Manning says. “… Just being thought of on that day, like somebody acknowledging her pain.”

Widows especially suffer on Valentine’s Day because with no flowers or chocolates or whatever sign of affection they used to get, the day becomes a sad reminder of loss, Manning says.

“To see everybody around you getting flowers and gifts and chocolates and knowing your person isn’t there … that’s just a really sensitive group of people, widows.”

An overwhelming and wonderful response

After Manning started her florist shop, Pretty Things, in November 2020, she had a platform from which to launch the project. She took to Instagram to see if she could raise the funds for what she called the Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project and was floored by the response.

“I very organically just asked, ‘Would anybody be interested in donating to a fund that will deliver flowers to widows on Valentine’s Day?’ ... I was thinking maybe 25, 30 people, but within three weeks we had 121 widows nominated and funds to cover all of their gifts.”

It really started people thinking about what widows might be going through, Manning said, adding that people often would not initially have an idea of whom to nominate but then would come back the next day after remembering who had lost their partner.

That first year, Manning says, 60 people from the community came to her home to help put the flowers together, box them up and deliver them. It was raining and cold but someone had a contact at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store and they donated tents, she says. The operation grew quickly, and after news outlets covered her mission, the project delivered flowers to 400 widows in its second year.

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A small miracle of support

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. While trying to get her business off the ground and planning for the next year’s Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project, Manning damaged one of her eyes, permanently losing vision on one side.

Surgeries and bed rest made it difficult to care for her family, let alone keep the business together and the volunteer project going. That’s when her community came together to support her. The same people who volunteered to help her with the project got her through it — cooking her family dinners, driving her kids to practices.

Following a number of the surgeries, Manning had to lie face down on a massage table as part of the recovery.

“This one woman brought me my favorite wine with a really long straw that I could put under my table and drink, just as a joke. Somebody else got me a clicker for the iPad because I had to watch TV on the ground … they really cared about me.”

Manning made it through and the project has continued. This year, she expects to serve somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 widows. Her dream is that the project grows large enough to have it in every city.

It’s a lifelong love of flowers that has blossomed into something Manning says is beautiful. “As long as I can remember, I have had flowers on my table, and even if that meant in college I was picking them off the side of the road … There’s just something about having them in my home that just brings peace and beauty, natural beauty.”

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