‘We wanted to spread a little joy’; Southern Utah nursery sends flowers to New York City hospitals

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Removing faded flowers before they can set seed, also known as deadheading, encourages an additional flush of flowers on many perennials including daylilies | Photo by Melinda Meyers, St. George News

Cedar City — Mental health experts say it is acts of kindness that give people of hope during challenging times.

Patrick Gonzales, chief executive officer at Carbon County Counseling Center Wyoming, says the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception.

“It is times like this that people crave ways to make a difference in other people’s lives,” Gonzales said.

Using this philosophy, Utah-based Milgro Nursery stepped up to brighten the day of the staff at six New York hospitals with deliveries of potted flowers Tuesday.

More than 12,000 flowers left Utah May 6 on a 53-foot refrigerated truck and arrived on the east coast Monday morning at CASCO Salt Company in Andover, N.J. The flowers were then offloaded onto smaller 10-wheel trucks for deliveries to hospitals from the Bronx to metropolitan New York City, Elmhurst, Harlem, Jacobi and Lincoln.

Flowers were also delivered to nursing homes, first responders and New Jersey hospitals. More than 27,000 flowers were shipped via the United Parcel Service to homes, businesses and other hospitals across Utah and southern California.

Along with the partnership between Milgro and CASCO, ERA Brokers Consolidated (St. George) provided the shipping costs.

The flower delivery brightened everyone’s day, Noreen Brennan, chief nursing officer with NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan, said.

“Even behind PPE masks, you could tell there were smiles ear to ear,” Brennan said. “Most of my staff were in tears. For us to receive the gorgeous flowers was so unbelievable.”

Jim Castimore, owner of CASCO Salt Company unloading a shipment of flowers from Southern Utah to hospitals throughout New York City and New Jersey. New Jersey, May 12, 2020 | Photo courtesy Neil Walter, St. George News

Along with the challenges of the past few months, New York City recently suffered a cold snap that killed many flowers last week.

“To see the flowers arrive in such a sad time in New York City started the healing process for us,” Brennan said. “We can see things are getting better and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It was overwhelming.”

The arrival just after Mother’s Day was wonderful timing, she added.

“Many of our staff has been putting in 12, 14, 16-hour shifts with some isolating themselves from their families because they have children and significant others. The flowers not only brightened up the lobby but brought light to everyone’s eyes,” she said. “It really was the most poignant moment of my day.”

While there has been a lot of attention on the deaths in New York City, there is hope, Brennan said.

“The hope is with a significant amount of people who have been discharged successfully,” she said. “We’ve also had a significant amount of our health care providers who unfortunately came down with COVID but who have now come back to work.”

The sun is shining brighter, Brennan said, the days are getting longer, the number of people admitted to their hospital is growing fewer, and the number of patients in the intensive care unit is dropping.

“But, there is a lot of healing that has to go on,” Brennan added. “We are finally starting to see that healing beginning to occur.”

Pink-red sunny peony flowers in a botanical garden in spring. Photo by ABGlavin/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

While an act of kindness, the flower delivery was also born out of necessity.

Milgro was gearing up for its busy season with spring flowers in bloom, but, because of COVID-19, orders began being canceled.

After a chance meeting with her neighbor, Neil Walter, CEO for ERA Brokers Consolidated, Cherilyn Smith, Milgrow’s director of marketing and business development, had a lightbulb moment about what to do with the flowers in jeopardy of finding their way to the landfill.

“When we began having cancelations from our customers, I knew it was going to leave us with thousands and thousands of flowers on our benches in our greenhouses,” Smith said. “It’s an amazing sight to see the flowers to bloom and tip color, and it was heartbreaking to see something that can bring so much joy going to waste.”

What began locally with deliveries through the local UPS to nursing homes, schools, restaurants and people’s doorsteps soon expanded.

Signs salute medical workers in New York City, New York on an unspecified date. | Photo courtesy Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

“It really amounted to a few thousand flowers, and we had hundreds of thousands left,” Smith said. “I was out for a walk on Easter Sunday and Neil Walker knew what we were doing and wanted to help. He suggested what if a truckload of flowers could be sent to New York City.”

The answer was an immediate “yes”.

The act of kindness was then hatched with everyone involved pulling in one direction.

“We sure know that a flower is not going to make everything better, but knowing that we could send the flowers out and our deepest and sincere love and appreciation of what the hospital staff is doing in New York City meant a lot.”

Walker said it’s amazing how neighbors and complete strangers can sustain each other’s spirits in dark times.

“It was a simple decision,” Walker said. “If you are in New York City and some of the other places that have been hard hit … it’s a totally different world. It’s scary.”

It is the little things like flowers that can make a difference, he added.

“I know we can’t fix things or change things, but maybe we could cheer people up and let them know somebody was thinking about them,” Walker said. “We wanted to spread a little joy.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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