SPRING HILL — Stacy Johnston and fellow members of the Ladies Auxiliary of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10209 are thinking of Christmas this year with a far-reaching patriotic theme.
Johnston, recently appointed the auxiliary's patriotic instructor, came across an article in a veterans periodical about Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit effort to place holiday wreaths at grave sites of those who served in the military.
The program began 18 years ago with a wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery. By last year, the effort had spread to more than 350 locations and consisted of 100,000 wreaths, according to the organization's Web site.
"I thought it was awesome," said Johnston, 50.
While she sponsored a wreath last December honoring her late husband, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Johnston, buried at Arlington, she said not many people locally are aware of the program.
She would like to change that.
Johnston is spearheading the auxiliary's effort this year to spread the word and wrap gravestones at Florida National Cemetery near Bushnell in red-bowed balsam circlets in December.
Wreaths Across America's mission states: "Remember those lost, honor those serving, and teach our children." Those are also Johnston's callings as the auxiliary's patriotic instructor.
The auxiliary has added a fundraising component to its wreath endeavor. Of the $15 sponsorship for every wreath, $5 will go to the VFW post's scholarship fund, which finances essay and speaking contests, as well as awards for students pursuing higher education.
Nationally, wreaths are not placed at specific grave sites. But locally, a sponsor may pick up a wreath and lay it on a grave of choice at any cemetery, Johnston said.
The auxiliary will accept sponsorships through Nov. 13. For every two wreaths sold, the supplier, the Worcester Wreath Co. of Herrington, Maine, will donate a third.
Johnston wants to enlist students, Scouts and other volunteers for what she hopes will be a massive wreath laying Dec. 12 at the Sumter County cemetery.
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.