My flower friend Miles Johnson of Fiori Floral Design shares a special story with Flirty Fleurs readers – the story of the LOLs.
Thank you, Miles, for contributing beauty to this world when it needs it most!
Doing Good With Flowers in the Age of COVID-19
There is something that you should know about me: I LOVE little old ladies. My staff knows that if a little old lady (or as I call them, an LOL) calls to place an order that I will have infinite patience to help them, no matter what else I need to do. This can be a source of frustration or a source of amusement for my staff depending on whether or not we are pushing up against any deadlines.
The seed of my love of LOLs was planted by my maternal grandmother who was an avid rose grower. When I swapped condo living for a house, I added a rose garden in tribute to a woman that my sisters and I affectionately called “Gonga.”
It was during college that my love of little old ladies really flourished. I was working at a department store selling jewelry in one of the first malls built in the United States. Not only was the mall old but so was its clientele. We used to joke that, unlike newer malls, you were more likely to see a customer pushing a walker than a stroller!
Older customers often require more time to help and typically spent less money. Since we worked on commission, my coworkers would sometimes avoid them. Not me. When an LOL came into my department, what I saw was someone’s grandmother and I was determined to treat her the way that I would like my own grandmother to be treated: with patience and kindness.
It is my experience that, just like anyone else, LOLs just want to be heard. Because I always made it a point to listen, they liked me. I learned that I liked them too. When they came in, they always wanted to be waited on by “that nice young man.” A few made joking offers to adopt me that I always declined with the same explanation: that it would be too awkward for me to have to explain the adoption to my parents!
The unprecedented nature of the current situation has left me feeling heart-broken for my little old ladies. I live in Seattle, not far from where COVID-19 has ravaged an assisted living facility. Because the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the novel Coronavirus, one of the earliest acts of the governor was to restrict access to facilities that house our older citizens. In some facilities the residents are even confined to their rooms to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.
Of all of the consequences of the pandemic, this has hit me particularly hard. Like many people, I was looking for a way to help someone who needed it but did not know where to begin. I had seen on social media that another florist was promoting a program called ‘March Kindness’ where members of the community could purchase a small arrangement and the florist would take them to patients in a hospital. I toyed with that idea for a while.
Then a long-time client of mine called. She wanted to order an arrangement to be delivered every week to her mother who was confined to her retirement home. That sparked an idea about how I could make a difference. Anyone who was looking for a way to help could too.
I knew that I could send a few arrangements to senior citizens, but if I asked my customers to sponsor an arrangement we could reach even more people. I could pick a different facility each week and deliver as many arrangements as we could sell. I waived the delivery charge so that all of the money went into flowers. As a thank you, I gave the sponsor a certificate for a discount on their next purchase or if they preferred, they could add the certificate to a kitty that we used to create even more arrangements for seniors. Almost every customer added it to the pot, multiplying the number of lives we could touch.
The arrangements are miniature versions of our work that we named “Forget You Nots’’. The first week they were just promoted on social media and that Friday we delivered 20 arrangements. The following Monday I sent out an email to raise awareness and I was overwhelmed by the response. Immediately my website blew up with orders. Customers were calling to contribute $250, $500 or more to the program.
That evening the governor announced that all non-essential businesses in Washington needed to close by the end of day on Wednesday. Not only did I need more flowers and containers but they also had to be made and delivered in two days! I enlisted the help of my friends Alicia Schwede of Flirty Fleurs and Keita Horn of Smashing Petals. Alicia, Keita and my creative director, Leigh, combined 100 bunches of tulips that I picked up with almost everything in my cooler and cutting garden (while staying six feet apart!).
The next day I delivered more than 80 arrangements to two retirement homes! I know we made a difference because a few recipients called to thank me. But the one that made me tear up was a card from Margaret. She told me that on Wednesday she thought the she had nothing to look forward to but another cancer treatment. Receiving the surprise arrangement put a whole new spin on her day.
I will to continue offering Forget You Nots once we open until the restrictions on visitors are no longer needed. I want to reach even more LOLs. After all, they may be somebody’s “Gonga.”