By Jill Brooke
It’s not Christmas yet but the Society of American Florists (SAF) came up with a fantastic idea called “Petal It Forward” to bring joy to the public by encouraging their many members to surprise passersby with flowers.
Considering that most SAF members are flower shop owners, and growers, it wasn’t hard to gather over 650 participants to this annual October pop-up event which started five years ago.
Built into SAF’s “Petal It Forward’s” mission is the agreement that each florist will give not one – but TWO – bouquets to strangers in their communities. Then the stranger is asked to “give” the extra bouquet to someone else who could be cheered up by some flowers.
“We are calling ourselves ‘Flower Showerers,” says Debi Bush, who runs Expressions Unlimited in Greenville, South Carolina with her daughter Staci Bryant. Like Santa’s elves in their off-season civvies, their creative team gave out 1250 bouquets in their neighborhoods for the October 24th event.
One highlight for Debi, who is like the best of Dolly Parton – warm and loving, bawdy and funny – was giving the flowers to one young girl in her 20’s.
“She told me she never received flowers before,” recalls Bush. “I said, ‘Honey, everybody deserves flowers.” The girl sheepishly said, “I never thought I deserved to get flowers.”
But thanks to Debi’s insistence and maternal pep talk, the girl not only took the flowers but then the transformation happened, Getting something beautiful makes you feel that way too. She started considering what new friend she may want to make through the gift of a random bouquet. Giving someone a flower and saying, “Thought you may like this,” is certainly a conversation starter.
In another instance, Billy Bush, the patriarch of this fun clan, knocked on one door in a housing complex and was greeted by a woman who was absolutely delighted by this surprise gesture. ” Oh my goodness. I have two friends who are both going through some rough times and are sick. This is perfect,” she shared, smelling the fragrant flowers. “I’m going to give it to them.” Bush, who has generosity coursing through his veins, said, “Well I’m just going to give you three then. We want you to have one too.”
But that’s what florists are – the best ones anyway. They are memory makers, milestone cementers and part-time therapists trying to soothe or enhance human emotions while bundling carnations, tulips, lilies and roses and not getting pricked by the thorns.
Like hothouse orchids, many people pontificate and prattle on about doing good but florists are rooted in their communities and daily experience the emotional impact flowers make on every single person, no matter their age, gender or cultural background.
And all of the florists foot the bill for this project.
The Bush’s daughter, Staci Bryant, had her own highlight reel.
One man thought he had to make a donation upon receiving the flowers. “No,” she insisted. The guy, skeptical of pure generosity without strings, cocked his eye and asked, “Then why are you doing this?” Staci Bryant just smiled knowingly and said, “Give this extra bouquet to someone else and then you’ll understand.”
It wasn’t only adults learning a teaching moment.
Botanica International Design Studio in Tampa, Florida brought flowers to a local elementary school and also taught the students about the history of flowers, and all the different occasions people like to receive them. Many mamas were the likely recipients of the extra bouquet which teach young children the impact of giving.
There was no numerical requirement of how many bouquets were distributed – though in Roanoke, Virginia, Georges Flowers gave out 2000 bouquets.
In Dallas Texas, McShan Florists came up with the idea of partnering with the local police force. Jodi McShan, an attorney who worked at the D.A.’s office and also knows many dedicated policemen, had learned how the local force was attempting to create more positive connections in the community.
“They were doing snowcones for kids after school and other things in a way to say we are here to help protect you and help the community,” says McShan, a third-generation florist.
Flowers were a perfect solution because there’ s nothing threatening about a pillowy peony or sunny chrysanthemum.
Of course, seeing officers distribute flowers immediately conveys caring and support and also sparked conversations and community.
“Flowers can bridge gaps,” adds Jodi McShan. “They really help not only with tough conversations with someone but can also be an ice breaker.”
All around the country – all 50 states – the bouquet brigade got to witness the power of flowers bringing joy and happiness and melting away stress.
Inspiration is all part of the connection between flowers, florists and people. Recipients were more than happy to share who they were considering to give the other bouquet as well as asking for advice. Florists know that the options are endless. “Did your son play a good game today?” “Who did well on a test?” Give them flowers to celebrate. Who may need just a little pick-me-up in the day whether it was an office co-worker or even their local waitress? And it was both men and women who received the flowers.
What the florists also got to experience was observing how when given the chance, people enjoy doing good.
Echoes of “I know who will be really cheered up with this” rippled throughout the day, throughout the country as these Pied Pipers of Positivity distributed blossoms to unsuspecting passersby who became grateful recipients for this goodwill project.
Many of these heart-warming stories are on #petalitforward” and Flower Power Daily will be putting them on our Instagram all week.
Although SAF came up with this idea – it should plant some seeds in all of us. Anyone can give flowers to cheer up someone’s day.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.
Photo Credit: FPD