This column visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore. Perhaps unknown to many of us, these individuals have had their lives transformed by the missions of these organizations and are giving back in unique ways to better our world. Amelia Blades Steward has been a freelance writer in our community for 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
Have you ever witnessed the beautiful flowers adorning a lavish wedding or special event and wondered what happens to them after the big day? A new nonprofit, Petals for Hope, is addressing that very thing by redirecting flowers, plants, and greenery from the trash into the hands of those who need hope. The organization’s founder, Brittaney Sard of Kent Island, started the nonprofit as a temporary thing in 2018 when she was in between marketing and event jobs.
“I knew the waste in the event industry and I just connected the dots,” Brittaney comments. “I had always volunteered in nursing homes and realized how the little things make a difference to people who are isolated like that or shut-ins. I always grew up knowing I was supposed to be helping others.”
Rather than see flowers end up in a landfill after a wedding, special event, or funeral, Petals for Hope helps clients divert these blooms into the hands of those who can benefit the most. These repurposed arrangements bring joy to those in hospice, nursing homes, homeless shelters, woman shelters, crisis, and grief support. All blooms and greenery that are unfit for use are composted, instead of ending up in landfills.
Brittaney realized that florists are often too busy to do the pre-scheduling required when donating flowers to nursing homes and other facilities directly. This was the perfect niche for her business. She reached out to wedding planners to set up the donations, even providing brides with a tax-deduction for her minimal service fee to repurpose the flowers from their weddings.
Many of the florists that made the original arrangements offered to teach Brittaney and her volunteers how to repurpose the flowers afterward. Initially, Brittaney’s 10-year old son, sisters, and mother helped with re-cutting and rearranging the flowers into mason jars and vases to deliver to residents in Queen Anne’s County. As word spread, soon the business expanded to Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, D.C., and Northern Virginia before becoming national this year with chapters in nearly every major city in the U.S.
When she began to get as many as six to eight weddings a weekend in Maryland, she realized she needed help and put out a call to volunteers through the organization’s website. Since then, she has been using a wedding software product to manage the requests and match them to volunteers in the system across the country. Training workshops on repurposing flowers are offered by Brittaney herself or other key volunteers so that each Petals for Hope Chapter operates the same way. The organization operates with two full-time employees and two part-time employees and hundreds of volunteers.
Realizing the power of flowers, Brittaney has also branched out into providing floral therapy workshops for survivors of sexual assaults, sex trafficking, and domestic violence, as well as grief support groups and cancer survivor groups.
“I am passionate about this work. I started with an organization that worked with survivors of sex trafficking that wanted flowers for an event they were sponsoring. We realized that having survivors help arrange the flowers helped them talk about their experiences. The littlest things mean the most to people going through difficulties,” comments Brittaney, who is going back to get her Ph.D. degree in Psychology from Penn State to enable her to expand the therapy side of her offerings.
Our goal is to not only rearrange these blooms into bedside bouquets but to use them to help heal those who need healing by offering therapeutic workshops through our workshops “Therapy Through Flowers.”
During COVID-19, Brittaney is sourcing her flowers from flower farms more than from events. She still takes the excess flowers from weddings and funerals to nursing homes and hospice houses, but the arrangements mainly go into common areas instead of individual patient rooms. Flowers for shut-ins are left on the outdoor steps to avoid contact.
She adds, “We are also developing floral kits so that the recipients can arrange the flowers themselves. People or organizations can sponsor the kits for others. Each kit also comes with a video on how to arrange flowers.”
Since the organization does not qualify for grants, Brittaney and her team launched an online storefront (thewanderingcottage.com) four months ago to help raise funds for Petals for Hope. By shopping the online store, which offers carefully curated accessories, goods, and clothing, patrons support ethically sourced and environmentally friendly brands, fair trade, and companies that “Do Good.” Proceeds from the shop help keep the bride’s costs down to participate with Petals for Hope’s program.
Brittaney adds, “We are on a mission to recycle wedding and corporate event floral waste and put these twice loved flowers into the hands of those who need them the most. In addition to the positive environmental impact and social good benefits we strive to achieve, we partner with other non-profits to help provide job training services to reintroduce residents into the workforce. We offer job training in administrative duties, marketing, service, and more.”
Since the organization’s conception in 2018, it has successfully repurposed and composted thousands of blooms. For further information, visit petalsforhope.com or call Brittaney Sard at 410-253-6019.