The second Saturday of December of each year may pass by unnoticed for some, but for the family and friends of passed veterans, it is a time of remembrance.
Wreaths Across America is an organization that aims to “remember, honor and teach” through the donation of wreaths placed on fallen soldiers’ places of rest.
Volunteers from all 50 states come together to spread the message of Wreaths Across America, as well as to place the wreaths on graves at local cemeteries. This year, the event will take place on Dec. 14 National Wreaths Across America Day.
The event has taken place in the Knoxville area for about eight years and has been largely successful. This year, UT students are working to support the cause.
SALUTE is a new honor society at UT that aims to serve U.S. veterans and honor their service. SALUTE is made up of active military members, student veterans and ROTC cadets. The honor society has recently partnered with Wreaths Across America to help support the organization’s Knoxville initiative.
The president of SALUTE Kristopher Reynolds explained that when SALUTE learned about Wreaths Across America, the honor society was quick to get involved with the cause.
“We found out about Wreaths Across America and immediately became a local sponsor and help collect donations and promote the event,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds shared why it is important for locals to get involved.
“There is no federal funding for this event, so all funds come from generous donations,” Reynolds said.
SALUTE has been raising money in multiple ways to purchase wreaths for the project. The group has been collecting donations online and via mail. They also hosted a fundraiser for Wreaths Across America at the Calhoun’s in Pigeon Forge on Veteran’s Day.
Wreaths Across America places wreaths on three cemeteries for veterans in Knoxville.
Those who wish to volunteer can choose to help out at any of the three locations, which include “New” East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery, “Old” East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery and Knoxville National Cemetery.
Veterans from all over the country are laid to rest at the Knoxville National Cemetery, including legendary football coach General Robert Neyland.
With over 18,000 veterans’ graves to cover in Knoxville alone, Wreaths Across America will always welcome volunteers. Knoxville National Cemetery is in need of the most volunteers as of now.
The organization welcomes volunteers of all ages, as well as families and scout groups, the latter of which often come by to help out on the day of the event.
Last year, Knoxville locally gathered about 11,000 wreaths, but this changes every year depending on the generosity of donors.
To volunteer, reach out to the coordinator at the location of your preference. Those who cannot volunteer personally can purchase a wreath for $15 online.
Communications Director of the Knoxville chapter of Wreaths Across America Chris Albrecht’s passion is undeniable as he speaks as to why it is so important for Knoxville locals to support the Wreaths Across America effort.
“Every single wreath donated makes a difference. We hope to be able to honor every veteran, but Wreaths Across America is strictly a grassroots effort. We depend on donations, whether that’s a check or through credit card online,” Albrecht said.
The Wreaths Across America effort specific to Knoxville is largely supported by corporate sponsors as well. Locals may recognize some of the sponsors, including Calhoun’s, Big Kahuna Wings and East Tennessee PBS.
Although donations can be made through Wreaths Across America’s national website, Albrecht urges locals to donate through the Knoxville chapter’s site.
“If you donate at our local website, the wreath is guaranteed to serve a veteran’s grave here in Knoxville. We struggle with getting donations, so any help would be extremely appreciated,” Albrecht said.
Those who wish to donate via mail can make checks payable to Wreaths Across America, KNOXWREATHS and mail checks to P.O. Box 50054, Knoxville, TN, 37950.
Below are the places to volunteer with their respective contacts:
“New” East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery
2200 E John Sevier Hwy
Knoxville, TN 37920
Coordinator: Bernie Koprince
“Old” East Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery
5901 Lyons View Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919
Coordinator: Brenda Staton
Knoxville National Cemetery
939 Tyson St.
Knoxville, TN 37917
Co-Coordinator: Misty Williams