For thousands of people, Valentine’s day is particularly hard. It’s the holiday created for two, but when there’s only one, it can be a brutal reminder of loss.

Unless you live in North Carolina, where one mom and small business owner makes bouquets for widows and has plans to deliver 400 arrangements in just a few weeks.

“Both of my grandmothers were widows. My mom’s mom had 12 children and my dad’s had 8. I never met my grandfathers and they never remarried,” Ashley Manning explained. “My son’s preschool teacher had (also) lost her husband. When I heard that, my heart just broke.”

After 10 years of pharmaceutical sales, Manning followed her passion for plants and began to casually arrange flowers for friends’ events, then sell them at local pop-up events, finally launching Pretty Things by A.E. Manning In November 2020. Last February, Manning asked her Instagram following a simple question: How are we going to take care of the women in our community who aren’t going to get flowers? The response was overwhelming.

Courtesy A.E. Manning

Nominations of widows who someone knew could use a sweet surprise started rolling in. “I just needed to know their name and address,” Manning said. “I was just a one person show last year.” That didn’t stop her from organizing 121 bouquets for widows with the help of 50 volunteers. Manning says that some people choose to have the flowers delivered anonymously, while others want to deliver themselves, along with a hug.

This year, Manning’s more than tripled her scale of delivery for Valentine’s day, and she’s done it despite a serious eye injury (inflicted, no less, than by her 6-year old—and we totally don’t even have to ask what happened to picture it happening). “I had a fully detached retina and I was in my bed for 6 weeks,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could do (the project) this year,” she told TODAY, but thought, “‘If we are going to do this, we have to get started now.’ And by the grace of God, this is going to happen.”

More than ten local businesses —including jewelry company Twine and Twig and wine retailer Winestore— plus monetary donations from people across North Carolina have pitched in to make sure that widows in the community can still feel the love this Valentine’s Day.

If you know a widow whose Valentine’s Day could could be brightened with a bouquet, you can nominate them here. Care to share? You can contribute to the cause by donating to Manning’s outreach via Venmo.

—Shelley Massey

Featured image by PrettyThings.Charlotte via Instagram



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