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Recycled Wreaths Honor Fallen Soldiers
As a Home Depot associate, Mary Patterson is sad to see unused Christmas wreaths after the holidays. But as a mother who tragically lost her son in action, she sees opportunities for those wreaths to brighten other places.
After every Christmas, since 2015, Mary accepts unused wreaths donated by the Geneva, Illinois, Home Depot store and places them in the local cemetery on the graves of veterans.
Sadly, the mission is personal after losing her son, Chris, to an IED detonation in Afghanistan in 2012. A music major at Valparaiso University before leaving for his fateful mission, Chris volunteered as a way of supporting his fellow soldiers.
“Burying a child isn’t easy and is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do,” Mary says. “The best advice I received, from another Gold Star Mother, was that grief is like an ocean. Some days the waves are gentle upon the shore and other days it’s a tsunami and knocks you off your feet.”
One of the ways she copes was by starting the Chris Patterson Memorial Fund as a way of honoring her son and his musical interests. “For God, For Country, For Music” is the slogan of the foundation, which she has tattooed on her right arm. The organization plans to give out five $1,000 scholarships to local high school seniors pursuing music majors in college.
For Mary, placing the recycled wreaths on the graves of her son and fellow war heroes each year after Christmas is just as meaningful.
While working as cashier in the Garden Center, she noticed the wreaths not being used after the holidays. “I thought how sad it is that at the cemetery, where my son is laid to rest, the entire veteran's section was bare,” Mary says. “How nice it would be if we could put wreaths on their headstones?”
With the blessing of her store manager James Coomes, Mary, a veteran herself, her husband and several associates dutifully collect the wreaths the day after Christmas and spread love to the fallen soldiers.
“Each year when we get home, we are tired, cold and sore,” Mary says. “But we know we’ve made a difference, and we will continue, as long as we are able to honor them every December 26.”