"I think goodness and kindness inspires more goodness and kindness," Manning says, "and that's a really good thing."
Valentine's Day—a day when love and romance is in the air—can make some people feel awfully lonely. While people who are single or romantic can feel disconnected and disassociated from everything that this day is about, Valentine's Day can make the ones who have recently lost a loved one terribly sad.
When Ashley Manning—a 39-year-old, married mother of four—first decided to hand out a bouquet of flowers to a widow she personally knew, she realized just how much that gesture was appreciated. Manning is a self-taught florist from North Carolina. "I started working with flowers in COVID as a little break from the kids," said Manning. When she had formed her own company, Pretty Things by A.E. Manning, within just a few months, she felt the urge to pay it forward.
That is when she decided to do something special for her son's teacher, Kathy Evans, who'd lost her husband, Bob Gore, to cancer in 2015, when Evans was just 53 years old. "I remembered at the beginning of the year when my son was 4, she'd told me she lost her husband," Manning recalls. "I could see in her eyes she was so sad."
So, according to PEOPLE, on Valentine's Day 2021, Manning surprised Evans with a bouquet of flowers. The gesture warmed Evans' heart on what is "the hardest holiday for me," says Evans.
"It just sparked the idea to reach out to more widows," said Manning and she asked people on Instagram to share the names of widows in Charlotte, North Carolina.
With 120 names on her list Manning needed help to do the job. She received help with the bouquets from a team of volunteers and goodies from several local businesses to send along with the flowers.
"It's our mission to take care of each other," says Manning, whose project—known as the Valentine's Day Widow Outreach—has garnered local news coverage. "And on that day, those women need to be taken care of."
Amongst all the missionary projects she has been a part of, this project means the most to Manning. She describes an incident which left an indelible mark on her daughter. "My daughter realized that day the real gift is the actual joy you get from each other," Manning shared. Speaking about the day she recalls, "I took my three oldest kids to deliver a bouquet to our elderly neighbor down the street last year," she says. "We really didn't interact with her much, but we knew she was a widow. When she opened the door and saw the flowers, she said, 'I think I'm gonna cry.'" She says that her daughter was really happy that day which makes her feel good.
Her project has grown twice as large. 150 volunteers will spend the weekend transforming more than $12,000 worth of flowers into bouquets to be delivered to more than 350 women on this Valentine's Day.
Manning now hopes this idea will pick up across the nation and help widows feel loved and wanted on a day where they feel loneliest. "I think goodness and kindness inspires more goodness and kindness," Manning says, "and that's a really good thing."
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images | Jose Luis Pelaez Inc