By RITA KUEBER
Two years ago, Sue Buddenbaum, a local marketing maven, founded an independent non-profit, BigHearted Blooms. Its mission is to ‘rescue’ fresh flowers from weddings and special events, and repurpose them into bouquets, and then deliver them to individuals in hospitals, nursing homes and senior living facilities.
“Within the last year brides have become very engaged in the knowledge of floral materials, thanks to Instagram, says Cindy Hollister of Artisans Floral Design, an in-house studio in Chagrin Falls. “But these brides also want to know what happens to their flowers after the reception, and they want to know if their arrangements can make someone else happy too.”
This wave of conscientiousness is also taking place in the special event world. Scott Robinson of Stems Fleur, a retail shop in Cleveland Heights came across this while working on a special event for the Harrington Discovery Institute. “They specifically asked me to find someone to take the flowers and get them donated. I found Sue and her group and they were wonderful.”
Sue’s experience as a caregiver to her mom gave her insight into how a network of supporters boosts the mood and perhaps the healing experience of ill or elderly people. But since not everyone has such a network, Sue and her volunteers work to get more individuals on a path to recovery through a simple but meaningful act of kindness.
“What really inspired me to get involved is understanding the impact [a gift of flowers] has on the elderly,” says volunteer Jennie Herrman. “My father was in full nursing care for years. I always brought him flowers because it brightened his day. But what I will always remember is walking to his room, passing many residents just sitting, looking so lonely. As I went by they would comment: ‘Oh I wonder what lucky person is getting those,’ but they were for my dad. I always felt that I should do more to reach out to these unknown people.”
Sue felt that as well, and reached out to Random Acts of Flowers, an organization based in Tennessee with chapters throughout the US. While the group could not expand further at the time, they offered Sue guidance and mentoring to start her own non-profit. BigHearted Blooms was born.
The work is not hard but timing is everything. Volunteers gather at venues from hotels to private homes to country clubs immediately after an event, which means midnight or later to pick up anything that’s going to last. Flowers are gathered and placed into buckets. Everything is transported to the BHB headquarters at St. Clair near East 55th, downtown. The next day, usually a Sunday, is a blur of volunteers reorganizing the still-fresh flowers into individual bouquets ready for distribution early in the week – freshly crafted for people who could use a bit of cheer.
Sue emphasizes the fact that volunteers need no training or experience to help reorganize the flowers. Repurposing sessions are a great activity for volunteer groups, and volunteers are always needed, as are small vases. Some supporters offer to hold vase “drives,” an activity that takes very little time and keeps unwanted vessels out of landfills.
“I’m thrilled to not take the flowers home or put them in the dumpster, because before Sue that’s what happened. I certainly can’t use them again,” Cindy Hollister says. “I’m so grateful. Sue provides a service to the florists as well as the community.”
“It’s hard for us to see something usable thrown away,” Scott Robinson adds. “We certainly can’t sell [already used] flowers to a customer. It’s great that they are used for a good purpose.”
“Once you have delivered flowers and have seen the joy on someone’s face, you want to stay involved,” says volunteer Molly Ritts. “I love delivery because that small act of giving someone a vase of flowers is powerful. We often deliver to Malachi House, a hospice for the homeless. People are visibly moved that someone thought about them. They are so appreciative. When you volunteer for BHB you witness how powerful an effect a small act of kindness can have.”