It’s Angels Work

IAW 02


A group of gardeners in North Carolina formed Friends with Flowers to bring bedside bouquets–and some compassion–to hospice patients.  Here’s how you can, too.

It’s just a few pretty flowers in a simple, inexpensive vase.  That’s what Friends with Flowers–a Greensboro, North Carolina, homegrown effort that provides fresh bedside arrangements to terminally ill patients–says it’s all about.  But what the group actually delivers, three times a week, 156 times a year, is comfort. 

Local floral designer and garden accessories shop owner Randy McManus began Friends with Flowers two years ago as an effort the recycle flowers left over from events.  “I love flowers and hate to see them wasted.” he says.  “So I would drop off large arrangements in huge vases to different care facilities and then wonder if I was doing them a favor since they’d tehn have to break them down to make bedside arrangements.  It seemed that I could do that for them.”

DOC026He contacted Paul J. Russ, director of resource development at Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro, and offered to create and deliver small tabletop bouquets once a week for three of its hospice programs.  In order to have enough fresh flowers.  Randy reached out to fellow gardeners who agreed to grow extra blooms.  What couldn’t be grown would be bought wholesale through private donations.  All the work–harvesting flowers, making and delivering the dozens of arrangements–is done completely by volunteers who come into Randy’s shop three days a week. 

Says volunteer Gail Miller, “I got it instantly.  The minute Randy told me what he planned to do, it just sounded so easy and so important.  I had to be part of it.  The things about a beautiful idea is that , in the long run, roadblocks go away when the idea is right.”

Randy explains,”Friends with Flowers brings fresh flowers to terminally ill patients, many of whom have no family or friends, to life their spirits and brighten their final days.  Our goal is to show these new friends that someone is thinking about them even as they leave this world.”  The response was immediate and compelling.  At one hospice, nine of the 12 patients being served had been homeless most of their lives.  One, in his forties, kept asking if the flowers were really for him.”

“It’s angels’ work, says Paul.  “none of us could have imagined the impact this has had on our patients.  It’s a beautiful gift from someone they don’t even know.  What always amazes me is how consistent the deliveries are–like clockwork–and how consistently beautiful the flowers are.”

DOC028Every arrangement, from homegrown hydrangea to discounted Ecuadorian roses, is fussed over until it’s perfect (one volunteer hod to redo an arrangement three times), and because they’ve raised patient expectations, deliveries are made even in the deepest winter.  “This is not a summertime project,” says Randy.  “By working with local florists and local suppliers and doing some fund-raising, it’s possible to do this, inexpensively, year-round.  That’s the commitment we made.”  

Their other commitment is one to anonymity.  Vases come with neither cards nor visitors.  Randy says, “Patients aren’t preached to or intruded upon.  We’re not promoting or asking anything.  It’s completely about each recipient.”

IAW 03There’s a lot of love in these little arrangements.  “When I’m cutting flowers from my own garden or working on a delivery, making something pretty and cheerful for someone I’ll never meet,” says volunteer Theresa Palmer.  “I alwasy hope getting fresh flowers will make a difference–that someone who’s sick or lonely or afraid will feel a little better knowing I’m thinking about them.”

In a world where the challenges seem so huge and many of us feel disempowered, community efforts like Friends with Flowers remind us of the possibilities.  “Rather than becoming overwhelmed, we decided that we could make a difference here in our own little corner of North Carolina,” says Randy.  The group plans to expand this year from serving three facilities to five, including new hospices in Winston-Salem and High Point,k North Carolina, and hopes this idea will blowwom all across the country. 

IAW 04It all seems to come down to doing something good–just because. “Randy’s heart is so big and his vision is so clear, “says Gail.  “He truly believes in the power of flowers, beauty, and nature to heal the spirit and nourish the soul.  If a vase of flowers brings even a few minutes of happiness, we’ve done what we set out to do.”  

Written for Cottage Living by Kate Karam.  

Photos by Josh Paul.

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