Ashley Manning with her family. Photo Credit: Ashley Manning/www.prettythingsbyaemanning.com
Valentine’s Day for many is a joyous holiday to celebrate all things love. However, for others it can be a day of sadness, bringing back memories of an ex-partner, a messy divorce, or a day of mourning for those who have lost their spouse or loved one.
That sadness is what Ashley Manning, a self-taught florist and a mom of four, is trying to alleviate by making the annual holiday of love a little less painful for widows.
A Pandemic Hobby
Manning, a former pharmaceutical sales rep, never expected that her pandemic hobby would turn into a heartwarming movement. (Kindelan, 2022)
“I started working with flowers in COVID as a little break from the kids. I thought that if I made enough money to pay for a sitter while I worked, it would be worth it”, Manning of Charlotte told PEOPLE.
She used to make flower arrangements and Valentine’s bouquets for her family friends and kids’ teachers before launching this initiative. (Boudin, 2022)
The North Carolina woman felt the urge to pay it forward when her family and friends started believing in her beautiful creations and booking her for events. (Joseph, 2022)
She needed more space to keep up with all the demand coming in so she converted two of the rooms in her home into a florist studio.
As a lifelong lover of flowers, gardening, and decorating, starting a flower business was a natural next step for her. Within a few months, her hobby bloomed into a business named Pretty Things by A.E. Manning,
An Idea Came to Life
Just before Valentine’s Day 2021, Manning shared an idea on Instagram and asked her followers to send her names and addresses of widows who have lost their husbands.
She received dozens of names along with donations that poured in within a few hours of her post.
One nomination that touched the hearts of many was the request that came in from a woman named Cleauary. Manning stated that Cleauary told her “she wanted to nominate Eula because she had also lost her husband and knew just how hard it was.”
Manning wrote back and told her that not only would she love to include Eula in this initiative but that she would also like to include her.
Cleauary was outside of the area and offered to come to pick up the gifts for her friend. When she arrived at Manning’s studio, she asked to meet her. Upon meeting, Cleauary told Manning, “ Losing your best friend and husband is the hardest thing that will ever happen.”
The two looked at each other, eyes full of tears, and hugged for several minutes all while 15 people stood and simply witnessed their bond of connection. Manning said “That is one of my favorite moments of this entire outreach ministry. The gift of true love with no agenda. Humanity at its finest.”
With a team of volunteers helping her, Ashley delivered flowers to 120 widows in North Carolina in 2021.
The Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach Movement Was Born
Experiencing the impact this had on the widows of her community, Ashley wanted to make this an annual initiative. She named her project Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach, which she said has meant more to her than anything else.
Ashley said of the initiative, “It’s our mission to take care of each other,” adding, “And on that day, those women need to be taken care of.”
Just before this year’s big holiday, she posted the following on Instagram:
Manning raised over $22,000 funds and had over 150 volunteers helping her deliver flowers to 400 widows this Valentine’s Day.
On February 15th after the dust had settled, Ashley posted on Facebook:
“I am completely humbled by the amount of attention that our little project has received. It is a testament that not only does bad news travel fast but good news travels even faster. I love this example that we are setting for our children and the next generation that we should continue to love our neighbors as ourself. I am hopeful that this will continue to grow and we will continue to be able to serve these precious women in our community.”
Manning has demonstrated what a true act of love looks like. She also is a beautiful example of the impact that can be made by simply showing kindness to other people.
(n.d.). Pretty Things by AE Manning: Home. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.prettythingsbyaemanning.com/
Boudin, M. (2022, February 8). 'A Gift from Heaven': Mom Gives Flowers to Widows on Valentine's Day — and It's Becoming a Movement. People. https://people.com/human-interest/north-carolina-woman-delivers-flowers-to-widows-on-valentines-day/
Joseph, J. (2022, February 17). Mom-of-four surprises 400 widows with flowers and gift bags on Valentine's Day. Upworthy. https://scoop.upworthy.com/woman-surprises-400-widows-floral-arrangements-gift-bags-valentines-day
Kindelan, K. (2022, February 14 14). Mom surprises 400 widows with flowers on Valentine's Day. Good Morning America. https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/living/story/mom-surprises-400-widows-flowers-valentines-day-82829079