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Charlotte florist gives flowers to 800 widows on Valentine's Day

A Charlotte, North Carolina, florist is flipping the script on Valentine's Day by surprising hundreds of widows across her city with flowers and gifts. 

Ashley Manning, owner of Pretty Things by A.E. Manning, plans on Tuesday to deliver goodies to roughly 800 local widows or people without partners through the Valentine's Day Widow Outreach Project, a nonprofit she started. 

The initiative began in 2021, when Manning and a team of volunteers made 125 deliveries on the holiday.

This year, the organization has plans to deliver care packages to 800 widows, whose names and addresses were provided by other community members. Manning raised $50,000 and amassed more than 1,000 volunteers to support the effort. 

The project grew out of a simple gesture Manning made three years ago.

"I made an arrangement for my son's preschool teacher and she was taken aback by it. It meant a lot to her," Manning, a mother of four, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Ashley Manning, founder of the Valentine's Day Widow Outreach Project, plans to deliver 800 bouquets this year.  Pretty Things by A.E. Manning / Instagram

A former pharmaceutical sales rep, she had only recently turned her hobby — floral arrangement — into a small business. From there, she added a nonprofit arm. 

"I had a little platform and was able to ask people in my community through Instagram to help with outreach. The first thing to fill up was the volunteer list," Manning said. 

She now focuses the bulk of her time on the charity effort and does no regular business on Valentine's Day. 

"The first year I thought I could, but it was a disaster and will never happen again," she said. "The widow outreach takes hundreds of hours of planning and logistics to get all 800 deliveries out."

It's rare to get a knock on the door in this digital age, Manning said, noting that most gift recipients are pleasantly surprised — and often baffled.

"It's a total surprise, and there is a lot of confusion. But on a day that may be sad, you open your door and there's a young person there with a bouquet and gifts saying, 'We just want you to know you're loved today and every day.'"

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"When we see the smiles on peoples' faces, it's encouraging to know there are a lot of good people in this world and it takes one movement to create a ripple effect," Manning added. 

She hopes that similar initiatives will sprout in other cities. 

"Historically, you celebrate Valentine's Day with your loved one, but when you meet widows, they would give anything to celebrate with their loved one. We have flipped the script and turned it into a holiday that is not just for people who are married or have a partner to celebrate with," Manning said.

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