Valentine's Day

Meet the mom who is surprising 1,000 widows with flowers this Valentine's Day

“There’s hurt and pain everywhere ... We need this in our world.”

Courtesy Paige Jones

Kay Decaro of Charlotte, North Carolina, has been a widow for more than 25 years. So when a big bouquet of flowers showed up on her porch on Valentine's Day, she was taken aback.

The surprise delivery in 2022 was from Decaro's daughter, by way of Ashley Manning, whose nonprofit organization Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project makes the holiday special for women who lost their spouses.

"We (widows) are kind of like a forgotten element sometimes," Decaro, 71, tells "It was just such a beautiful thought and it made me feel so special that somebody would take the time to make something so beautiful with flowers and pass it on to widows."

Manning, a mother of four, started the nonprofit to give widows a special Valentine's Day. After nomination by a loved one, widows receive a delivery of flowers and gifts (wine, jewelry, snacks and dessert) on Valentine's Day, paid for with donations and assembled by hundreds of volunteers. All nominees, provided they reside within a designated delivery zone, receive a gift (nominations for Valentine's Day 2024 are now closed).

The initiative, Manning tells, is “humankind at its best.”

Ashley Manning, a florist in Charlotte, North Carolina, founded the Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project.Courtesy Ashley Manning

As Manning recently explained on Instagram, "Each gift costs us about $60 with donations and wholesale pricing. However, if you were to buy the flower arrangement, vase, wine, sweets and treats it would cost more than $300!"

The Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project is currently running in six cities: Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Nashville, Hutchinson (Minnesota), and Houston.

Manning says some people choose to have the flowers delivered anonymously, while others want to deliver themselves.

“They want to hug the person they give it to,” she explains.

Manning, a former pharmaceutical rep who runs the floral shop Pretty Things by A.E. Manning, has loved plants and flowers since she was a little girl.

"I would make flower arrangements for my friends for their birthdays and put things together," Manning says.

Ahead of Valentine’s Day 2021, Manning asked her Instagram followers a simple question: How are we going to take care of the women in our community who aren’t going to get flowers?

Although Manning is married to her college sweetheart, she holds a special place in her heart for widows.

The non-profit organization "Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project" in North Carolina honors women who have lost their spouses. Courtesy Ashley Manning

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

When Manning spread the word that she would be creating bouquets for widows in the Charlotte area, she began receiving nominations from all over town.

On Valentine's Day in 2021, Manning delivered bouquets to 121 widows and in 2022, she delivered to 400 widows. Last year, she doubled those recipients to 800 widows.

Manning also partnered with Meta and media company Upworthy to expand the “Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project” on a national level.

“It was the most emotional thing I have ever done,” Manning says.

This year, Manning has raised $60,00 through social media and private donors — her biggest fundraising effort to date — for 1,000 widows.

With the success of the Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Project, Manning has been encountering questions about addressing different types of loss or other holidays like Mother's Day. She recently mulled how to honor parents who have lost children.

"There’s hurt and pain everywhere," says Manning. "Seeing how people come together is such a testament to the fact that we need this in our world."

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