From left are Random Acts of Flowers Pinellas Director of Mission Fulfillment Monica Kok, ROA founder and CEO Larsen Jay and Pam Ora, president of the board of directors.
DUNEDIN – Larsen Jay cherishes the memory of delivering flowers to a blind patient at an east Tennessee hospital.
The founder of Random Acts of Flowers said he was caught off guard when one of the nurses whispered to him that she was blind. The minute they stepped into the room, the woman sat up and said, “Oh, those are stargazer lilies,” Jay said.
“She smelled them. She knew the smell; she’d been a gardener,” Jay said. “Those had been her favorite flower. And we gave her the flowers. She touched the flowers. It was the most amazing reaction. She couldn’t even see the flowers. It reminded me that the giving of flowers is one of the most universal gestures that cross all demographics, races, religion, and income, even disabilities. It had a huge profound effect. I’ll never forget that.”
Ray, his staff and volunteers have many other stories they can tell about brightening somebody’s day through the delivery of flowers.
The nonprofit organization, based in Knoxville, Tenn., is blossoming in Dunedin, too, where it was launched Nov. 13 with the delivery of 130 bouquets to patients at Mease Manor, a senior retirement facility.
Random Acts of Flowers strives to improve mental health by giving flowers. Volunteers collect donated flowers from weddings, memorial services, florists, special events and grocery stores. After the flowers are rearranged in new bouquets, volunteers deliver the flowers to patients in area hospitals, nursing homes and hospice care centers.
Pam Ora, president of the board of directors for Random Acts of Flowers of Pinellas, said she and four other women from the area conducted research on the charity, flew up to Knoxville to check it out and decided they wanted to establish a branch in Dunedin, where Ora lives. It was the first expansion location for the organization.
“We are growing by leaps and bounds,” Ora said, making about 100 deliveries per week from Trinity to Largo from their office at 564 Frederica Lane.
Using Facebook and other media, the word is spreading about the local charity.
“We have probably 30 to 40 volunteers who come in and do the arranging. They tell their friends who tell their friends. So it’s word of mouth,” Ora said.
Jay is pleased with the success of Random Acts thus far, saying that the organization hopes to expand to Miami, Salt Lake City and Indianapolis in the next two years.
After a near-fatal accident in 2007, Jay was inspired in his hospital room by the large support he received during his long recovery through visitors and floral arrangements. He noticed that many of his fellow patients did not have visitors or receive flowers, compelling him to start Random Acts of Flowers in 2008.
Random Acts programs get adopted quickly, he said, saying he came to Pinellas County and introduced the charity. But the program has “taken off without me which is wonderful because it’s really helping a lot of people,” he said.
Nurses determine who gets the bouquets. Random Acts may deliver 30 to 40 to a facility, Ora said.
“Many of them (patients) say they haven’t received flowers in many years. Some of them say they have never received flowers. Some of them cry,” Ora said. “It’s very touching.”
Luanne Reese, chief strategy officer at Mease Manor, said the manor was fortunate to be involved with Random Acts almost from the time its doors opened with the Nov. 13 event at the manor. The incoming chairwoman of the manor’s board, Nancy Ridenour, also serves on the Random Acts of Kindness board and brought the charity to the manor’s attention.
“Just seeing pictures that [the event] and the smiles that it created was worth any amount of work that anyone had to do,” Reese said. “They truthfully fulfilled their mission, day one right out of the box.”
With offices in Greenville, Knoxville and Dunedin, Random Acts has delivered more than 32,000 floral bouquets in health care facilities and recycled more than 34,000 vases nationwide.
“They (vases) come from people who clean out their garages. We get a lot of vases back from the health care facilities that we deliver to,” Jay said.
Jay also envisions expanding Random Acts into south Pinellas County.
“Ultimately, if there is a community that has flowers that are thrown away, volunteers that want to help people and people in the health care system that can use it, there’s an opportunity to start one of these,” he said.
Random Acts of Flowers is located at 564 Frederica Lane. Call 754-7974 or visit rafpinellas.org.