From the Provincetown Banner:
PROVINCETOWN — In 2013, after nearly two years in Seashore Point in Provincetown, Suzanne Carter’s mother passed away. What her mother probably knew is that she left a daughter with a big heart and a lot of energy. What she may not have known is how that daughter would create a legacy in her mother’s spirit that would spread joy to people all over Cape Cod.
Inspired by time spent with her mother at Seashore Point, Carter created a new non-profit t, Flower Angels, “a match made in heaven,” as Carter describes it, whose sole mission is to repurpose and recycle flowers and deliver them to those in nursing homes, residential facilities and hospice care.
Carter, who was raised in Provincetown but currently lives in Dennis, noticed there were many people who didn’t have visitors. She discovered that 60 percent of people in nursing homes have never had one visitor. This troubling fact led her to react. She started by bringing candy and cookies to her mother to share with other residents. The joy this brought to the residents extended to Carter.
After a year of grieving following her mother’s death, Carter started putting her energy, and small inheritance, into buying and delivering flowers to those people who rarely saw visitors come through the door.
“Activity directors were very helpful in pointing out those most in need,” Carter says.
A lawyer she consulted said it likely would take up to a year to get a non-profit t status. But, after sending the application with a letter detailing the mission and the urgency of it, she received non-profit status three weeks later, she said.
That was last March. In May, with the onset of donations from wedding parties, Carter started counting bouquets being delivered. The current tally is 5,145.
“I saw the Dalai Lama [speak] a few years ago and when asked what our purpose is, he said to be happy,” Carter says. “When asked how to be happy, the Dalai Lama answered, ‘The only way you’ll be happy is to serve others.’”
Through Flower Angels, Carter has managed to serve not just the recipients of the flowers but numerous others on Cape Cod as well. She has allied her non-profit with Cape Abilities and Community Connections, organizations that facilitate the hiring and volunteerism of differently abled people. “My daughter is special needs. There is a job for her and many other differently abled people in our mission,” Carter says.
One man, to whom they affectionately refer as the “vase engineer,” cleans and sterilizes all of the vases that are picked up and returned to the center by another set of volunteers. “The people in the nursing homes love the people from these organizations. Everyone’s face lights up. They’re more happy to see them than they are to see me,” Carter says.
“It’s quite a system,” she continues. “Originally, I was buying all the flowers and vases and asking my friends to volunteer. Then I asked people to donate their time and vases by putting boxes around to community centers and advertising in the ‘Right to Know’ section of the paper. I got 6,000 vases in two months, and many volunteers. I printed up a brochure and did a massive mailing to florists and wedding facilities. By May I was flooded with wedding flowers. I think everyone gets something out of this system.”
Flower Angels’ oldest volunteer, Irene Chausse, is 90 years old, says Carter. She makes the bouquets out of donated flowers.
Describing her experience as a volunteer, Chausse reports, “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
During a recent delivery at Seashore Point, 40 residents received small bouquets, and 10 bouquets were left over for the dining room and common areas.
“I love this,” says Seashore Point resident Beverly Brazil, as a Cape Abilities volunteer carefully sets a bouquet of flowers on her tray. “It makes sunshine in my day.” Another resident who asked not to be identified says when she first came to Seashore Point, “All of a sudden there were flowers all over. I thought it was a great idea.”
More businesses are getting on board. Trader Joe’s and Shaw’s grocery stores donate flowers, and not just those that are past expiration, but fresh, new flowers, too. For the flowers that are past expiration, it’s a way to repurpose them. They’re going to be thrown out anyway, says Carter. And in addition to re-using them, the organization also composts the flowers that are past usability.
In the winter, half of the volunteers leave for warmer climes and the deliveries go down by about half, from 250 to 300 bouquets per week to about 125 per week in the winter.
To cover continuing expenses, like rent, utilities and gas, Flower Angels held a fundraiser last November. There was a nor’easter that day, however, and the turnout was not as good as they’d hoped, but organizers were able to cover some important costs. Gas for deliveries can run up to $800 a month. There are grants available for similar organizations, but Carter feels like they have specific needs that may or may not apply.
“We’re hoping to get a van so we don’t have to make as many trips,” Carter says. “And we’re at the point where we could use an office person. There’s a lot of paperwork, including writing grants. It’s not my thing.
Though she is clearly the enthusiasm, drive and heart behind this mission, Carter credits those who pitch in for carrying it all off. “I couldn’t do any of this without my volunteers.”