The Flowers of Hope program launched last year by the Johnson City Salvation Army has been adopted as a sanctioned Salvation Army program available to corps worldwide.
Founded last spring by the Johnson City corps’ Development and Community Relations Director Lainey Howard with help from volunteers from Johnson City’s Shady Oaks Garden Club, the project now works in partnership with Earth Fare and Kroger, local wedding planners, churches, funeral homes and others to recycle fresh flowers that are past their sell date and otherwise destined to be discarded.
Instead, more than 130 volunteers are helping the Salvation Army fashion the flowers into bouquets and bud vases for the tables at Salvation Army’s Center of Hope kitchen and shelter, and for delivery to area hospitals and nursing homes and other locations where people are in need of encouragement and beauty.
For the large show of volunteer support the program has generated, the Johnson City corps was recently awarded a “Poinsettia Award for Excellence in Service,” from the Salvation Army’s contracted marketing division. And on April 11, Howard and Captain Nick Garrison, commander of Johnson City corps, led a Salvation Army webinar to introduce the new program in which about 30 corps from 15 states participated.
“It’s a way to get people involved in the Salvation Army. That’s the main thing,” Howard said. “It’s about homelessnesss and awareness of people who come to the Center of Hope for meals. Most people know the Salvation Army for two things, the kettles and the Angel Tree. This keeps them involved all year.”
Since the program was initiated in March 2012, the Center of Hope has served nearly 90,000 meals to people in need and there have been fresh flowers on the table for every meal, Howard said. More than 3,000 bouquets have been delivered. And more than 4,000 volunteer hours have been logged by people young and old who are inspired by the program and the opportunity it provides for them to make a difference.
Students from East Tennessee State University are among the program’s most enthusiastic supporters. On Friday, there were 12 ETSU students arranging flowers in the Salvation Army dining room, including two honor students and six students from the university’s College of Medicine.
“They love doing it and they come faithfully,” Howard said. “It’s good for their mental health too. They’re making a difference. And they know the VA (hospital campus) better than anyone so that’s where they deliver.”
Flowers of Hope recipients vary from day to day. Where the flowers go has a lot to do with what’s happening in the community. And holidays that increase the number of flowers local floral departments have do donate have a huge impact.
In addition to VAMC and its patients and nurses, Flowers of Hope have gone to residents of the John Sevier and Watauga Square senior housing centers, the new Community Health Center on State of Franklin Road previously known as Downtown Clinic, and downtown businesses hard hit by the Aug. 4 flood.
Heather Bagnell, a garden club member and a lead volunteer for the program, remembers the overflow of roses that arrived at the Salvation Army on the Friday after Valentine’s Day with laughter. “We had a lot flowers that day and we had all worked hard and were almost through when a volunteer came in with a huge box of roses. There were 600 long stem roses and we were so tired we were just sick. I thought everyone was going to pass out.” But a show of appreciation to ETSU was in order and the roses were delivered en masse to the university for distribution to student residents.
“I thought of all the guys trying to impress their girlfriends who had roses,” Bagnell said, satisfied she had helped her club achieve one of its most important missions — spreading the beauty and happiness that come with flowers.
“When it comes to giving flowers and making someone’s day, everybody is equal,” Howard said. “It makes everybody happy.”