By breathing new life into old plants, a dedicated handful of High Country volunteers has made it their mission to raise the spirits of regional residents by refurbishing people’s discarded flowers. Since 2012, Flowers for Friends, an ongoing community service project spearheaded by seasonal Elk River resident, Brent Atwater, has been collecting plants for elderly and ailing individuals with the aim of brightening their day. The project got started after Atwater paid a visit to her grandmother.
“The idea came when I visited a healthcare facility to see my grandmother. I saw a lot of people who were left isolated and alone,” said Atwater. “I wanted to do something to help them.”
As her neighborhood’s seasonal residents would leave town for the winter, Atwater took notice of their discarded plants.
“I would notice at the end of every season, people would throw their plants away,” Atwater said. “So I started getting the plants, rehabbing them and fertilizing them and giving them to friends and people I knew who were alone in healthcare facilities.”
The collection process for the plants is a race against time, as Atwater and her small group of volunteers try to collect the community’s abandoned plants before the year’s first frost. After collection, the plants are repotted and rehabilitated before being distributed to people in need. Volunteers take special care to personalize each plant with a card before divvying up the plants between nursing home residents, hospital patients and people in hospice care.
“I created a little card, like a business card and it says you are special and you are loved,” said Atwater. “We put that card with every delivery.”
Flowers for Friends takes personalization a step further, not only sending letters of love along with their flowers, but also by matching plants to their new owner’s individual needs. For example, sending plants that require less tedious care to individuals who are suffering from cognitive issues or dementia.
During the years, Flower for Friends has grown, recruiting help from local plant nurseries who provide pots to the project and community members, including the Lee McRae men’s lacrosse team, who help move and transport the sometimes large, unwieldy plants.
Though the plants are typically hand delivered by volunteers, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused members of the Flowers for Friends project to rethink the way they collect and deliver plants. This year, the pre-potted plants will be dropped off at the doors of regional healthcare facilities and will be distributed by the facility’s staff.
For Atwater, who has many times paid for material out of her own pocket, the project has become a labour of love that she looks forward to every year.
“The most rewarding part is taking the plants to the participants,” said Atwater. “Sometimes people say they have never gotten flowers in their life.”
Hoping to continue the project in the future, the Flowers for Friends project is currently seeking out motivated volunteers to help donate, recuperate and deliver discarded plants. For more information about this project, call (828) 898-5557 or email Brent@brentwater.com.