Thousands of potted Easter lilies appeared on front doorsteps in Brampton this week – a special delivery meant to spread holiday joy as people are forced to find new ways to celebrate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grace Canadian Reformed Church of Brampton received 2,500 lilies, Pastor Eric Onderwater said, which members delivered to homes on Wednesday morning while wearing gloves and masks, leaving them on doorsteps along with a small note.
Mr. Onderwater had the idea after hearing about other local churches giving out flowers in their neighborhoods. Wanting to do the same, he found a greenhouse that was able to donate the lilies thanks to a donor who covered a portion of the plant costs.
“I think this was just a simple way to say ‘you know what, there are people who care about you,'” he said of the deliveries.
But the act had another benefit: Were it not for the donor and the church, the lilies would likely have gone to waste.
Growers have found themselves in a tough position this year, with hundreds of thousands of flowers ready for the season but retailers cutting back on orders and outdoor centres not opening across the country. Greenhouses needed to find ways to use their blooms – and new buyers for them – or else the plants would end up in the compost and they’d be out income. Anonymous donors, along with charities and churches, have come to the rescue.
P. Ravensbergen & Sons Ltd., a greenhouse in Ontario’s Niagara Region, usually sees about 80 per cent of its business happen this time of year, but buyers have reduced orders significantly.
“It has impacted us hugely,” owner Mr. Ravensbergen said.
They started sending their hydrangeas, potted mums and begonias out to their local community for free, delivered by staff and family.
Not long after, because of support from an anonymous donor in Stoney Creek, they were able to distribute almost 30,000 flowers to homes, churches and retirement facilities in Smithville, Hamilton, Niagara and Brampton.
“People are very, very fearful, but having that flower dropped on off their front porch made their day. The Facebook messages just lit up all over the place. It’s just phenomenal,” Mr. Ravensbergen said.
John Boekestyn, one of the owners of Boekestyn Greenhouses Ltd. near St. Catharines, Ont., says they grow 160,000 Easter lilies each year. They typically ship out the week leading up to Easter, before the flowers grow too old and die.
“It’s hard to have babied this crop along the whole three or four months, and to see all those efforts go down the drain for a good chunk of it,” he said.
Mr. Boekestyn partnered with Mr. Ravensbergen and their sponsors to give away their Easter lilies without losing all the money from the crop. They have also donated flowers to charities for use in fundraising drives, sent some to the local police services to brighten up stations, and run self-serve drive-throughs (to limit person-to-person contact). Some trucking companies also bought cases of flowers for half price in order to place them in senior homes.
“Our business purpose statement as a company is ‘enriching people’s lives with the beauty of flowers,’ and we’re not getting paid for it right now, but we’re still doing that,” Mr. Boekestyn said.
ReBloom, Canada’s first floral recycler and composter, is also turning to donors. Typically, it reuses floral decorations from events that would otherwise go in the garbage, sending them to organizations such as retirement homes or shelters. When the blooms finally fade, they pick up the flowers for composting.
Now, because of COVID-19, ReBloom is tapping sponsors to help cover the cost of sending flowers from florists and greenhouses straight to long-term care facilities across the country.
“We’re being hyper-diligent, especially when delivering to such high-risk facilities,” said founder Kalynn Crump. They sanitize pails, leave flowers outside and allow facilities to compost on their own to help reduce contact.
Ms. Crump said that she is providing the service for free, happy that she can both help growers make up some money and bring joy to communities in need of comfort. She has recently seen an uptick of people trying out the program in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.
In Saskatoon, Quinn and Kim’s Flowers had been chosen as the official florists for the Juno awards on March 15. The husband-and-wife owners were driving when they heard on the radio that the ceremony was cancelled just three days ahead of schedule, meaning all the table arrangements they had created were about to go to waste. They pulled over on the side of the road to process the information and started to figure out a plan.
Instead of throwing away the 170 centrepieces, they decided to sell them for $20 each and donate the money to Teen Challenge Saskatchewan, an organization that helps men and women overcome addiction. Nearly all were sold within two hours.
“It was a good ending to the start of a bad story,” Quinn Brown said.
Since selling the cheaper arrangements, he said they have continued to offer more affordable options.
“Flowers are a good gift right now while people are isolated. Even just trying to connect with somebody, it’s a way to reach out and touch somebody without there being physical contact.”