Local fundraising efforts for Wreaths across America (WAA) are under way in New Paltz to ensure that all 900 veterans laid to rest in the Rural Cemetery on Plains Road are honored on December 19 with handcrafted wreaths of American-grown balsam fir hand-tied with red velvet bows.
What began in 1992 with a trailer-load of wreaths decorated by volunteers and laid at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery has now become a national organization with over 1100 participating locations. Among them is the New Paltz Rural Cemetery, where members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8645 and its auxiliary have collected local recipes into their first annual cookbook to help them purchase these wholesome tokens of gratitude to those that have served and protected.
“Last year, Geraldine Mahoney was able to get the WAA to choose New Paltz as one of their locations to provide these beautiful wreaths for our veterans’ graves,” said Cindy Dates, a Post 8645 Auxiliary member who comes from a long line of veterans in her family. “It was such an honor, and then quite the undertaking by Carol Johnson of the [Haviland-Heidgerd] Historical Collection and others to go out and identify every person in the cemetery to find out if they had served in the Civil War or the Revolutionary War, World War I, World War II…” All in all, Dates said that 857 tombstones of war veterans, including those in the specified Ulster County Veterans’ Gravesite, were identified.
“We had a beautiful ceremony with a color guard, and the local Boy Scouts and other volunteers laid the wreaths on each and every grave, and it was moving,” said Dates, who gets choked up when she talks about the importance of honoring our veterans past and present. “Anything for our veterans. They’ve given so much, and they continue to give so much.”
Because of the current Covid 19 public-health crisis, the Auxiliary has not been able to do the fundraising that it would traditionally undertake at big community events like the Ulster County Fair, Taste of New Paltz and the annual Ribfest. “We can’t even fundraise outside of Shop Rite right now,” Dates said.
Instead, Dates and VFW member Ron Mironchik and his wife Kathy decided to collect recipes and put together a cookbook that they could sell for $15, which would sponsor one wreath. “When sponsors order two wreaths, the WAA provides a third wreath for free. Their goal this year is to get to 900 wreaths.”
Dates was careful to point out that this tribute is about honoring those who have served our country as soldiers, nurses, medics, pilots and chaplains and has “absolutely nothing to do with politics or religion. They are plain, simple wreaths with red bows that we put on the graves to honor them.”
Books are available for purchase at the VFW Post at 101 Route 208 in New Paltz. You can also find information on Facebook at www.facebook.com/newpaltzcemeterywreaths or call 633-8494 or e-mail email@example.com.