Flower Power: Vermont Recycles Flowers Delivers Blooms that Keep on Giving

Vermont Recycles Flowers volunteers and Pillsbury Manor residents display their floral creations. Left to right: Norma Sassarossi, Bobby Pond, Sandy Imes, Sherri Hiller (Activities Coordinator), Sylvia Weinhagger, Nini Crane (VT Recycles Flowers Volunteer), Elsie Saint and Hilda.

Stepping into a flower shop is like stepping into the arc of a scented rainbow. It’s a dreamscape where you suddenly walk and breathe with ease, where you are comforted by all-embracing beauty. You might feel the same way while at a wedding, with all the flower arrangements close by like dear friends. But do you ever wonder what happens to those flowers once the celebration comes to an end?

While attending a wedding five years ago, Diane Boucher, co-owner with Steve Juiffre of Chappell’s Florist in South Burlington for the past 23 years, asked the wedding coordinator that exact question. The answer, “They go to the same place the kitchen garbage goes,” Diane recalled. A horticulturist and florist extraordinaire for decades, Diane had a better answer. Though she didn’t do anything with the flowers from that wedding, she remembered thinking, “This is really simple. I can turn this into an entire industry.” She began by asking wedding and event coordinators for any remaining flowers. Diane would then re-design the arrangements and deliver them to nursing homes. Her brilliant idea thus gave birth to Vermont Recycles Flowers, a good will mission to recycle donated and event flowers back into the community for the enjoyment of others. But Diane knew it would take a team, so she ran an ad in The Other Paper looking for volunteers. Seventeen people from the area offered to help. “I had to pick three or four,” Diane recalled. “People thought, ‘go to Chappell’s and design flowers?’” Of course, how could anyone say no?

South Burlington resident Nini Crane, a retired reading specialist with an art background, is one of those volunteers. Her path to Vermont Recycles Flowers started two years ago. After going to grocery stores to purchase flowers for Pillsbury Manor and other facilities, where she had been volunteering for the previous year arranging bouquets with the residents, Nini went to Chappell’s to buy flowers. “We recycle flowers to the community,” Diane told her. “I’ll give them to you.” That’s when Nini joined the “good will” team.

Now entering its sixth year, Vermont Recycles Flowers has grown, with fourteen volunteers bringing bouquets to local nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, public schools, and other non-profits like the Humane Society, Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge, and Habitat for Humanity. Hinesburg resident Sue McGuire, a volunteer with the program from day one, devotes time each week to designing arrangements for the Vermont Respite House. Every week, Vermont Recycles Flowers delivers her bundles of joy to each of the 21 patient rooms.

How does Diane make sure there are enough flowers to go around? In addition to weddings, she receives flowers from other events held in the area, from two local grocery stores, and two floral wholesalers. Everything is recycled, not only the flowers but vases too. They come from all over, including from Replays Resale Shop on Dorset Street. To add some dazzle to each one-of-a kind creation, Paw Print and Mail, located on Gregory Drive, designs and provides, at no cost, decorative labels for every donated arrangement. If you’re ever the lucky recipient of a gifted vase full of delight, don’t forget to read the program’s message, “Enjoy them for the ‘life of the flowers.’”

Because Diane aims to deliver nature’s finest, she’s recently started offering flower-arranging classes to volunteers. Three of those volunteers teach nursing home and assisted living residents how to arrange flowers. Nini, who teaches at Pillsbury Manor, described working with the residents “as a gift,” and noted that her “favorite part” is getting them to express their thoughts about the arrangements. “Let’s talk about the colors,’” she encourages. “If you could see them beaming. They’re so proud.” Another volunteer teaches at Wake Robin Life Care Community in Shelburne. Everyone receives their own vase in which they have the opportunity to shape their own personalized heavenly arrangement. Burlington resident Jackie Britch makes weekly visits to one of the local VNA adult day programs, where she too helps clients create their individual versions of Eden in a vase.

Diane applauds the volunteers, “They’re incredible.” “It’s a win, win for everyone,” Nini reciprocated. Others share a similar sentiment. The Volunteer and Community Outreach Manager for the Humane Society, who happened to stop by during my meeting with Diane and Nini to pick up recycled flowers for an event that evening, said, “We love Chappell’s. The program is so generous.” The Humane Society also uses recycled flowers for their annual meetings, and sometimes displays them in their lobby. “We like animals,” Diane added. So does Bob Driver, a Chappell’s employee who delivers flowers along a scheduled route. He joined our conversation to share a “good will” story about how he visited veterinarian offices to drop off flowers. “I told them it’s ‘because you take care of the other members of our families.’” On another occasion, while at a medical office on Kennedy Drive, Bob overheard a staff member say purple is her favorite color. “I tried to find a purple vase and purple flowers here then brought them to her. ‘Oh, you made my day,’ she said.” Another time, while making a weekly delivery to the Residence Inn in Colchester, the receptionist jokingly asked Bob, ‘Where’s mine?” The following week, he arrived with a surprise bounty just for her. “She started jumping up and down,” Bob recalled, “then said, ‘please, let me give you a hug.’”

A blossoming basket of thank you cards Diane started receiving when the program started is testament to the outpouring of appreciation from the community. “The notes go on and on,” she said. So does Vermont Recycles Flowers. As she described, “It’s growing … arms and arms.” Nini agreed: “It’s sort of a tree.” A tree of goodwill. Thanks to Diane, the volunteers, and the community, who continue to nourish that tree with compassion, the flowers, like Diane said, “get a second life, sometimes a third.” And, for us, the rainbow lasts.

To donate vases or baskets, feel free to drop them off at Chappell’s Florist, 1437 Williston Road, South Burlington. For more information about Vermont Recycles Flowers go to http://recycleflowers.blogspot.com.

SOURCE: Melissa Cronin, Contributor

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