St. Augustine event planner Karen Erwin has been coordinating with Haven for years to donate wedding flowers to hospice patients after events.
Karen’s mother received someone’s wedding flowers when she was in hospice care in 2012, sparking Karen to implement flower donation in her own business. “I saw how excited the flowers made my mom and it was an ‘aha!’ moment for me. I stood there and gazed off and thought ‘I have wasted years of flowers,’” said Karen. “From that moment on, I ask every bride if they want to donate their flowers to Haven and almost every single one says yes.”
The majority of Karen’s clients are from out-of-state or even from different countries, coming to St. Augustine to have the destination wedding of their dreams. Most clients have to fly home, leaving their beautiful, often extravagant, flowers behind. It makes them happy to extend the life of the flowers and bring joy to hospice patients. “Everyone seems to love the idea. It’s a win-win for everyone. I’m thrilled to know that someone else is enjoying them past that one day,” said Karen.
Transporting and repurposing enormous amounts of flowers does take work and dedication, though, and that’s where Haven volunteer coordinator Michelle Colee comes in.
Michelle and her husband meet Karen at the wedding venue after the event is over and cleaned up, which is often around midnight or sometimes even later. They load the flowers in to their truck and spend the rest of the weekend repurposing them by themselves or with the help of volunteers.
“We give the flowers to our patients and families in St. Augustine, DeLand, Palatka and Orange Park to enjoy. We also place them in our facilities at nurses’ stations,” said Michelle Colee. “To see brides, mothers and fathers cry when you tell them what we’re going to with the flowers is special. It makes them feel happy that flowers brought joy to the wedding day but will also bring joy to Haven patients.”
Michelle and Karen say each wedding flower donation is special, but certain ones stick out to them, like the time one of Karen’s brides was a hospice nurse or when Michelle gave flowers to a hospice patient who had been a florist his whole life. Michelle says that’s what it’s all about. “We’ve seen Haven patients’ faces absolutely light up when we bring in the flowers, and the staff love to enjoy them, too.”
(Photos, clockwise) Top-left: Haven CNA Stephanie Baker-Simon presents donated wedding flowers to a patient in Haven’s Roberts Hospice Care Center in Palatka. Top-Right: Karen Erwin’s mother, Sarah Cooper Hartley, who inspired her to donate event flowers to hospice patients. Bottom: Volunteer Susan Cox and Haven Volunteer Coordinator Michelle Colee pose with donated flowers they repurposed for Haven’s hospice patients.