It has been a month since the Pulse tragedy happened and John and I wanted to share our story of hope and love that we experienced in the midst of the devastation. In spite of the darkness that descended on our city, we knew that we wanted to help our community in a relevant and meaningful way. As we considered ideas, it was clear that we were going to need a lot of help to complete our mission. We are so thankful for our employees and our florist friends across the world. Our team of designers, sales people and drivers became love ninjas as they painstakingly cared for each victim. If our employees were the hands and feet of the operation, our florist friends were the backbone of our plan. We couldn’t have completed these tasks without their financial commitment to stand with us to accomplish this floral crusade.
In total darkness, the softest light is seen.
June 12th may have forever changed our beloved Orlando. We had the unthinkable happen in our city. A thief lurked in our shadows and stole the heartbeat of 49 souls and sent 53 others to fight for their lives. This tragedy has pulled and stretched our hope and we have bathed in fear and uncertainty.
As I awoke on that Sunday, I was overwhelmed.
Pulse is about a mile from our flower shop and is a popular nightclub for our employees and our neighborhood. My heart was aching for the potential loss of our very own – I needed to know that all our employees were unharmed. I spent the next hour or so texting and tracking down our employees to make sure they were safe and their needs were met.
Then, like most people, I wanted to do something to help.
I wanted to give in a way that was helpful and significant. Although the community needed to be supported, I wanted to directly care for those in the midst of the loss. I spoke to the others in our flower shop and tossed out the idea providing all the funeral flowers for the victims’ families. This was such a ridiculously grand idea – we had to promptly dismiss it.
On Monday, as we drove back to the shop from the makeshift memorial, I felt God prompt me into asking other florists from across the country to participate by giving us donations to meet this need. Upon returning to the shop, I communicated this vision to John and we decided to test the idea by starting with our closest floral friends. We sent an email asking for help from 11 flower shops from as far away as Toronto.
Within moments of sharing our idea and requesting their support, every shop said that they would help us. This gave us the momentum and affirmation to proceed and to be able offer donated funeral flowers for all the victims’ families. With the decision made, there was so much to do. We did not want to wait passively and hope that the families would find us. After posting our mission on Facebook and Instagram, we were asked to speak to various news outlets to help us get this message out to the families. Although this helped us get in front of some of those in need, we still had to personally spend countless hours chasing service information for the victims’ families.
Normally, when we are included to honor someone by creating a floral piece for a funeral service, we can just briefly search online and quickly find the service details. Due to the circumstances surrounding the shootings, very little information was found online for the location and dates of the funerals. In a very short time, we moved from an idea of helping strangers to submerging ourselves into the stories behind the flowers. We didn’t realize that in order to meet this mission, we would have to actually walk through despair and carry the personal details about each victim. We would see their faces and hear their stories of hope and anguish from the perspectives of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children. We would meet children of the fallen, speak to their brothers and hear their mothers’ hearts heave with grief.
We repeated this difficult pursuit for all 49 people.
By the time we were done, we called a mayor of a small town, pursued family members through GoFundMe accounts, contacted employers and had bilingual employees speak to personnel at various funeral homes in Puerto Rico to track down all the families. We created 79 funeral pieces for 41 of the victims’ families. We fought back tears as we lovingly crafted each piece and personally invested in each family. We were honored to send individualized floral creations, including a tribute that spelled out “M-O-M”, orange and green corsages that were created in the colors of the Miami Hurricanes, and as a loving embrace of womanly solidarity, a casket spray with calla lilies that mirrored the count of children left behind.
With the help of 34 flower shops across North America, we were able to send donated funeral pieces throughout Central Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico.
Love conquers all.
When our suppliers saw the news accounts, they also wanted to help. Our trucking company reached out to farms all over the world who donated thousands of flowers to us. In addition, we received a plethora of vases, votive candles, supplies and plants. With these donations, we knew we wanted to seek ways to help heal our community. We lovingly crafted floral creations for each of the surviving victims at ORMC. Then, we designed bouquets of hope and love for The Center, businesses in Downtown South and a Pulse Fundraiser. We constructed thank you arrangements for several first responders – including Fire Station #5. In all, we delivered more than 150 heartfelt floral designs to try to help our community begin to heal.
Shockingly, even after creating all these bouquets, we still had so many flowers that were available to share. We were driven to find different ways to use these organic stems of hope and love to help unite and care for our neighbors. We worked alongside our local wholesaler and a team of about 15 friends and family to create 500 rainbow colored wraps for the upcoming vigil, but this would still left us with buckets of fuji mums and roses. We believed that during this time, when our community didn’t have the words to express themselves, they could use flowers to soften the edges.
That’s when we came up with the idea to create an eight-foot tall heart that we would set in place for the attendees of the candlelight vigil at Lake Eola. We knew that our friend, David Seip, of CAM Contracting, LLC would help us build the heart. Within a few hours of pitching this idea, David showed up at the flower shop with plywood, 2×4’s and tools and created the heart. On Sunday morning, John and I added pittosporum and chicken wire to the heart with the help of a few friends and family. Afterwards, we prepared thousands of cut flowers and placed them into buckets for the crowd to build the wall organically.
It is estimated that the vigil drew 50,000 people who wanted to honor the victims. The flower wall became a place of hope where people gathered and shared comforting words of love. The heart beckoned strangers to become momentary friends and care for each other. It wasn’t the wall itself that was healing, but the way it was organically crafted by people who wanted to grieve, hope, love and share while building this unified memorial.
As the people exited the vigil, they left their candles, flowers, signs, and prayers in front of the heart. We gave the #OneHeart flower wall to the community and they turned it into something much bigger than we could have imagined. We were overwhelmed by watching our community connect to one another with their pain and hope.
In the midst of this darkness, I believe that God draped our community’s shoulders with a soft blanket of peace that surpassed all understanding. I suspect that He sent Warriors of Love to lessen the pain of this overwhelmingly awful tragedy. Our police officers, fire department personnel, hospital staff and public servants all went above and beyond, and challenged each institutions’ standard procedures, emergency processes, team-building exercises and capacity to give and love.
We are awestruck with our community’s response to lead with love and are privileged to link arms with our steadfast friends who joined us on a floral crusade. Being able to provide a meaningful way to try to celebrate and honor the lives that were lost was a humbling, life-altering experience. We were grateful to be counted among the love warriors who, when joined together, provided a beacon of hope in our city beautiful.
Thank you again to our partners and supporters:
CAM Contracting, LLC, Orlando Wholesale Florist, Dr. Delphinium, Freytags, Ashland Addison, Nanz and Kraft, Welkes, Raimondi’s, Breens, Heroman’s, Ital Florist, Tipton & Hurst, People’s Flowers, Mayfield Florist, Pugh’s, Russell’s Bromeliads, Pixies & Petals, Hody’s Florist, Plaza Florist, Rockcastle, Feldis, Allen’s Flowers, Longmont, Flowerama, Brown Floral, Tiger Lily, Walter Knoll, Roddy’s flowers, Bloom Designs by Nat, Teresa’s Fine Floral, Field of Flowers, Matlack Florist, Sparks Florist, Cherry Blossom Florist, Jacobsson Floral, Killtelberger, Baicsh and Skinner, Cleveland Floral, Gardens of American, Cananvalley Flowers, Continental Flowers, Equiflor, Jet Fresh, Milton Adler, Armellini, Teleflora, FTD and Accent Décor.