Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 6, 2013

Small flower recycling program has big impact

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jillian and Matt Sitterlet wanted unique flowers for their Sept. 21 destination wedding in Leelanau County.

So they hired Derek Woodruff, owner of Floral Underground, to design the bridal bouquet and 10 bridesmaid bouquets using white hydrangeas, green-and-white ruffled parrot tulips and “green trick” dianthus, accented with cut succulents, hosta leaves, hypericun berries and assorted ferns.

They also ordered two large arrangements for the entrance to their reception tent and hydrangeas for their table centerpieces.

But the Brighton couple was stumped when it came time to decide what to do with the flowers — $3,500 worth — after the wedding.

That’s when Woodruff told them about his flower recycling program that collects post-wedding flowers and donates them to the Father Fred Foundation for clients who come to its food pantry. So far the program has donated flowers from eight weddings, thanks to willing brides and grooms.

“He ran it past me immediately following the reception because he and his assistant were there to pick up the flowers for brunch the next morning,” said Jillian Sitterlet. “I said, ‘You can just take them.’ I didn’t know exactly where they were going, but it’s a cool thing to do, because as a bride and groom, what are we going to do with them? I’d rather have somebody use them than us take them in our car for two days.”

Woodruff said the program, started in July, is becoming a popular option for full-service wedding clients, who rarely consider what to do with their flowers until they’re faced with the question.

“It’s almost an afterthought,” said the designer, a top-three finalist in the 2010 floral design reality TV series “The Arrangement” and the Michigan Floral Association’s 2011 Designer of the Year. “People don’t think about the fact that they’re going to have all these flowers left over and suddenly they have to decide what to do with them. So we come up with this option and they’re delighted.”

He said the flowers, which are typically for higher-end weddings, include unusual or off-season varieties and can run from $1,000 to $8,000 per event.

“That is a lot of money to spend on something that will only be around for a day,” he said. “We literally bring back buckets and buckets and buckets of centerpieces.”

The program works likes this: After Woodruff “strikes” a wedding, he brings the donated arrangements back to his shop, and stores them in water buckets. Father Fred volunteer and program co-founder Laurie Borysiak picks up the flowers two days a week and brings them to the agency on Hastings Street. There, volunteers break apart the arrangements and make dozens of new, smaller arrangements in donated vases to await food pantry clients.

“We take people through the food pantry and at the end they can pick out flowers,” Borysiak said. “They’re all happy and we get rid of all the flowers and all the vases.”

Father Fred Executive Director Rosemary Hagan said the effect on unsuspecting clients can be seen on their faces.

“It’s amazing. From my office I can see the women, sometimes men, walking out with their groceries and with that vase in their hand. It’s a peaceful look,” she said. “It’s such a gift. It’s not a good day when you have to come to Father Fred, so (flowers) are a bright spot.”

Woodruff said the program is similar to the Flowers for Friends project in Petoskey. That project was organized six years ago by his friend Jackie Burrell, owner of Flowers From Sky’s The Limit, with a local Girl Scout troop and its leader.

Now it’s run out of Burrell’s shop by a half-dozen women known as Womanworks and involves other florists, hotels and event venues, funeral homes, senior centers, and school and service organizations, which all work together to keep the program going.

So far the program has delivered 33,000 recycled arrangements to places like food pantries, meal delivery programs, senior housing complexes, medical treatment centers and homeless and women’s shelters, Burrell said. In turn, staff there deliver the flowers to residents, clients and patients to help spread a little cheer.

“I believe in community service, and the notes and letters and thank you’s we get are incredibly rewarding,” said Burrell, adding that donors receive cards letting them know where the flowers were delivered, while recipients get Flowers from Friends cards along the lines of: “In celebration of Sue and Mike Smith’s wedding” or “In honor of (the deceased’s name).”

Burrell recalls one woman who called after receiving flowers with a delivery from Meals on Wheels.

“Her husband had died, and it would have been their 63rd wedding anniversary on the day she got the flowers,” Burrell said. “The arrangement had yellow roses in it. Yellow roses are what her husband always gave her.”

Another woman told Burrell about the flowers’ impact on her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

“She said, ‘Now Jackie, you have to understand he hasn’t used any terms of endearment for me for ages. I can hardly get him to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Burrell said. “‘But today I picked him up at the (daycare facility) and when we were getting ready to leave, the caregiver said, ‘Jack, don’t forget your flowers,’ and put the flowers in his hand.

“‘He turned to me and said, ‘These are for my sweetheart.’”