Michelle Aguilar was saddened to see empty vases on the graves in a Mesa cemetery when she visited her father’s grave, so she decided to do something about it.
The Mesa 46-year-old started Project Flowers two months ago, and has been asking faith-based groups, charities and local cemeteries to help her in her mission.
“I’m asking for donations of used, unwanted, artificial flowers for lonely vases,” said Aguilar, whose 13- and 17-year-old sons also help with the project. “My goal is to have flowers in every vase.”
She’s already collected dozens of bouquets, and on Tuesday she placed the brightly colored flowers in empty vases at Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in east Mesa, where her dad, Bill Davis, has been laid to rest.
“We’ve been coming here a long time,” said Aguilar, a caretaker for dementia patients.
The family-owned cemetery started in 1951. Greg Coury, whose dad, Dan Coury Sr., now owns and runs the 60-acre memorial gardens, thought Project Flowers was a “great idea.”
“A lot of families don’t have flowers and it’s very nice that she’s doing this for free,” said Greg Coury, an advanced planning counselor at the cemetery. “If anything, it makes families happy.”
The cemetery also offers a flower program in which families can buy flowers for the graves. Project Flowers doesn’t interfere since it only fills empty vases.
Each flower bouquet put in vases has a little piece of paper taped to it that says “Donations by Project Flowers” to educate any questioning families.
The printed tag was her sister, Lori Bevacqua’s idea. Bevacqua, a Queen Creek farmer, is also helping with the project, and on Tuesday brought her husband and her four children to help distribute the flowers.
“This is a tribute and respect to our loved ones that have passed away,” said Bevacqua, 49, who home schools her children. “They’re (her children) learning how to give back to the community and be functional members of society. I tell them people in heaven are smiling down on them (when they fill the vases).”
Jessica Bevacqua, 14, said it makes her “feel happy that people can come and see flowers here.”
Aguilar’s goal is to fill empty vases at all Arizona cemeteries, and encourage others to start chapters in other states to continue the Project Flower mission. But first she’ll start with the Mesa cemeteries.
She’s asking local charities to volunteer with the project, which also includes stuffed animals for babies’ graves and American flags for veterans on Memorial Day.
“It’s just rewarding for us to do this,” said Aguilar, a Mesa High School graduate. “It makes it more calm and peaceful when the flowers are there.”
To donate artificial flowers to Project Flowers, call (480) 275-2338 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.