Sharon Blount, left, and Phyllis Sippel, Sun City residents and volunteers, helped place more than 15,000 holiday wreaths on veterans’ graves at Beaufort National Cemetery Dec. 19.

The Sun City committee dedicated to raising funds for the annual Wreaths Across America community effort had no idea what to expect when they met last spring to plan the 2020 campaign during a pandemic.

Nevertheless, chair Andy Hoerner and this writer, vice chair of the committee, planned to engage as many neighbors as possible to contribute to the cause.

Individuals, organizations and communities throughout the U.S. have been raising funds to lay holiday wreaths on the graves of veterans since 1992. No one could know how the pandemic would affect the 2020 effort. It soon became apparent that many organizations could not fundraise as they had in the past.

In 2019, the Sun City community raised $25,200, with 27 neighborhoods participating. Wanting to surpass that total, this year’s committee decided to increase their efforts and encourage more of Sun City’s neighborhoods to join in, eventually involving 41 of them.

With the concern very real that Sun City would fall short of past years’ donations, individual neighborhood captains were selected and encouraged to develop their own campaigns. Throughout the fall, Wreaths Across America was promoted in various resident publications, on television and radio.

The checks began pouring in – many for much more the $15 per wreath requested. Each donation was recorded and the 2,700-plus checks were mailed in bulk to Wreaths Across America headquarters in Maine.

In November, it was announced by the National Cemetery Administration that there would be no wreath laying or ceremonies in December anywhere in the U.S. due to the pandemic. That was quickly overruled by the White House and rules were established that severely limited volunteers.

Sun City was allowed just 50 residents to lay wreaths for a one-hour period Dec. 19. With the help of several other Beaufort County fundraising organizations, the volunteers solemnly placed 15,561 wreaths that morning. Cemetery officials and their employees were instrumental that day, distributing the wreaths safely to the various sections of the cemetery where volunteers received and laid them.

Throughout the U.S., more than 1.75 million wreaths were laid in 2,527 cemeteries that same day. Unfortunately, not all graves at Beaufort National Cemetery received a wreath.

The wreaths will remain in place until their retirement at 8 a.m. Jan. 16. The cemetery, located at 1601 Boundary St. in Beaufort, is open to the public. The Sun City committee encourages neighbors to visit the site in honor of fallen veterans.

Carol Kaminski served as vice chair for Sun City’s fundraising committee for Wreaths Across America.