She raised over $22,000 for the initiative and oversaw 300 volunteers who assembled more than 13,000 stems of flowers into floral arrangements.
Valentine's Day can be a punch to the gut for people who've lost their partner or spouse. With the world around them wearing a blanket of all things heart-shaped, red, and romantic, they're constantly reminded of the happier times spent with their better halves and the reality that they won't get to make any more memories with them. When Ashley Manning—a mom of four in Charlotte, North Carolina—turned her hobby of flower arranging into a business in late 2020, she hoped to make the holiday a little less difficult for women who'd lost their partners.
This Valentine's Day, the pharmaceutical sales rep turned stay-at-home mom and a team of volunteers delivered flowers and gift bags to 400 widows across the city. "When I started Pretty Things by A.E. Manning, I started thinking about Valentine's Day," Manning told Good Morning America, adding that she had made Valentine's Day bouquets for her kids' teachers and family friends going through difficult times many times before launching this initiative. "I thought, I have a platform now to maybe involve more people." This year was the second installment of Manning's Valentine's Day Widow Project.
When she first shared the idea of giving flowers to women who wouldn't be receiving any on Valentine's Day from their late partner or spouse on Instagram last year, Manning was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. Within hours of her post, she received hundreds of dollars in donations and the names of dozens of women who had been nominated by others. As a result, last year, she was able to surprise 121 women and two men with surprise floral arrangements and a gift bag with a note that featured the lyrics, "There's never been a moment you were forgotten," from Lauren Daigle's song "Rescue."
Jordan Meggs, who was marking her first Valentine's Day without her husband, Daniel, was one of the recipients last year. Daniel died of colon cancer at age 29 on February 21, 2020, when Meggs was 37 weeks pregnant with their first child. "I wasn't expecting it, and I was shocked and so surprised by such a sweet thing," Meggs said of the flowers and gift bag. "Before, I never thought of what widows are doing on Valentine's Day, but it's just in Ashley to think of others all the time. It's just who she is." Following the resounding success of last year's Valentine's Day Widow Project, Manning raised over $22,000 for the event this year and oversaw 300 volunteers who assembled more than 13,000 stems of flowers into floral arrangements for 400 widows.
The women also received gift bags with wine and gifts and gift cards from local businesses who donated their goods, said Manning. "It just kind of snowballed, but it's a neat thing to see a good thing snowball," she explained. "They say misery loves company, but I think happiness loves company, too." Meggs was one of those who volunteered to assemble flower arrangements and gift bags this year. One of the arrangements and gift bags was for her mother-in-law, whose husband died unexpectedly last year. "She'll be totally shocked, and I'm sure it'll make her happy and make her smile," Meggs said. "Like my husband, my mother-in-law loves Valentine's Day. She instilled that in my husband, and that's why he made it so special for me throughout the years."
Manning is currently in the process of turning the Valentine's Day Widow Project into a nonprofit organization so she can continue to expand and reach more women. She revealed that she has received countless messages of thanks from the women who received flowers, and has been overjoyed to see family and friends start similar efforts on whatever scale they could. "The most important thing that I've learned through this whole outreach is that when you feel that tug on your heart for whatever it is, because this world is full of things that are sad and hard and there are people that are aching every day, when you feel that nudge, actually listen to it," Manning said. "Whether it's widows or widowers or if it's military spouses, or whatever it is that tugs at your heart, you just listen to it and act on it, and the reward is far greater. The joy that giving gives your heart is just incredible."