“Everyone needs light,” said Kelsey Yankowiak, who has found a touching way to shine light on area military personnel—those on active duty and veterans. She has been delivering floral bouquets to thank them for their service through a program she started called Project Salute.

Working in a local floral shop for eight years gave her the training to strike out on her own this fall when she opened Bloom Barn Floral. Encouraged to begin her own business by fiance Kim Carroll, Yankowiak’s shop is located south of Ogilvie in a garage on the farm they purchased together. Carroll is renovating the building for her.

Yankowiak is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for over three years. The unconditional love and support she received while going through recovery was a very humbling experience for her. 

“You have to find yourself, know your worth and not settle for things that don’t make you happy,” she said. Owning her own business would allow her to use her creativity in ways that are important to her.

The gratitude Yankowiak felt for owning her own business and the support she received from family and friends inspired her to search for a way to give back, to shine her light and find some positivity during the pandemic. She began thinking of her brother, Ryan Yankowiak who is a pilot in the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany. He has been unable to return to the United States because of COVID travel restrictions. Her father, Doug Yankowiak, is a Vietnam War veteran. Growing up in a military family has given her a huge heart for those who serve, remembering the sacrifices they have made and what they have done to ensure America’s freedom.

That became her focus. To find recipients, she asked people to nominate active and retired military personnel on her Bloom Barn Floral Facebook page. Using the information she received she would design a bouquet, write a personal note of thanks and deliver the bouquets. To do this she enlisted the help of Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith. He would drive her in his squad car with lights flashing when they arrived at the homes.

Yankowiak hasn’t kept track of all the bouquets she has made and delivered, and she hasn’t accepted any financial help toward her efforts. “Our vets don’t ask for anything. It is the least I can do with funds I have,” she said. When offered donations she asked that they be given to veterans service organizations such as Kanabec County Veterans Services or the Veterans Administration.

Upon receiving the bouquets the reactions are very similar says Yankowiak. They are very surprised and happy, but very humble, telling her it was their calling.

When commenting on Project Salute and its importance to her Yankowiak said, “When designing the bouquets I feel an electricity and emotion thinking about what the recipient has done. I can’t put a price on what it gives me.”

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