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Memorial Day is getting renewed attention as an occasion for remembrance of deceased veterans through the Memorial Day Flowers Program, operated by a new nonprofit foundation. The program had a “soft opening” on Memorial Day 2012 and is expanding this year.

The project builds community ties between supermarket floral departments and other floral retailers and local groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars. They work together on Memorial Day ceremonies to encourage relatives and volunteers to lay roses on tombstones and to take roses home in memory of the veterans.

Memorial Day413The Memorial Day Flowers Program offers each person one rose to lay on a veteran’s headstone, another to take home in that person’s memory. Directed by Ramiro Peñaherrera, head of the Flowers for Kids program, the Memorial Day project began last year when 50,000 roses donated by growers were distributed by retailers at 95 cemeteries and ceremonies in 26 states. The cornerstone of the 2012 events, Mr. Peñaherrera said, was Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, DC, where an additional 60,000 Ecuadorian roses and 2,000 Californian bouquets were handed out by 120 volunteers.

“This year,” Mr. Peñaherrera told The Produce News, “we are expanding the program to 80,000 roses, offered through 200 retail florists and supermarket floral departments nationwide.” In late January, he noted, 70 percent of the retailers participating in the 2012 Memorial Day Flowers Program had signed on to be a part of the 2013 events. Memorial Day, always the last Monday in May, is May 27 this year.

The slogan for the project is “A Rose for the Headstone, Another Rose to Take Home in Memory.” Participating retailers will receive 400 roses, a Memorial Day Flowers banner and 200 leaflets. The roses are donated by South American and U.S. rose growers.

Delaware Valley Floral Group and Mayesh Wholesale Florist are covering freight and handling costs for their customers. For other retailers, there is a FedEx freight cost of $145, or delivery can be arranged through their wholesalers.

Managers of supermarket floral departments and other floral retailers can contact a local cemetery and set up a table to distribute roses to visitors. Each visitor will be given two stems of roses: one to place on a headstone and one to take home in remembrance of a friend or relative.

In 1868, Gen. John A. Logan, head of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that May 30 be called Decoration Day to honor the Civil War dead nationwide by decorating their graves with flowers and flags. The preferred name gradually changed to Memorial Day.

When Cindy Hanauer, a vice president at 1-800-Flowers and a third-generation floral industry professional, started in the supermarket floral business in the 1970s, she recalled in a 2009 interview, “My grandmother was amazed Valentine’s Day had become so big while Memorial Day, their biggest holiday, had lost its luster.”

To participate in Memorial Day Flowers, visit the nonprofit organization’s website at memorialdayflowers.org or email info@memorialdayflowers.org.