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'Flower recycling' spreads joy to those in need

Americans love flowers. Each day, more than 10 million cut flowers make their way into flower arrangements across the country. That adds up to 4 billion stems sold each year.
Siobhan Millen delivers flowers to a Meals On Wheels program at a senior center near Raleigh, N.C. The flowers are arrangements put together by "The Flower Shuttle," a nonprofit that goes to area stores to collect cut flowers, which would normally be thrown out because they are past their sell-by date.
At least three times a week, The Flower Shuttle volunteers gather to make about 350 flower arrangements each day, thanks to donations from area supermarkets, farms and even someone's recent wedding.
Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, wedding days: flowers are a part of life's celebrations. There is a place where these flowers are getting a second chance – a form of recycling – reconfigured and given to those who can least afford them.
“The Flower Shuttle” is a nonprofit that takes flowers, which would normally be thrown out, and gives them a second chance to brighten someone's day.
The Flower Shuttle is able to save thousands of flowers a month, which would otherwise be thrown out because they are past their sell-by date.
Posted at 10:09 AM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-06 13:23:52-04

RALEIGH, N.C. — It's a bright and early pick-up that's about to turn Siobhan Millen's vehicle into a virtual botanic garden.

“The grocery stores have been really generous,” she said. "It's fun. It makes the car smell nice."

Millen is one of dozens of volunteers picking up flower donations from local stores and gathering in the community room of a local church near Raleigh, North Carolina.

"I joined during the pandemic,” Millen said. “Some of my regular activities were on hold and I decided to do this for the first time."

She joined The Flower Shuttle, a nonprofit that takes flowers, which would normally be thrown out, and gives them a second chance to brighten someone's day.

"Every flower is unique in its own way,” said Eileen Taylor, president of The Flower Shuttle.

At least three times a week, they make about 350 flower arrangements each day thanks to donations from area supermarkets, farms and even someone's recent wedding.

It all adds up to thousands of flowers a month that would otherwise be thrown out because they are past their sell date.

"What's nice about that is we separate all the dead flowers and then we're able to get probably another week or two of life out of them and they go to people - people who otherwise wouldn't receive flowers and people living with terminal illness, sickness, poverty and disability," Taylor said.

For volunteers like Pauline Laubinger, The Flower Shuttle offers a chance to show off her creativity.

"I don't grow a lot of flowers, but I like flowers," Laubinger said, as she looked at all the flowers volunteers had picked up that morning. "I'm looking for some purples and pinks because I've got a pink base for the first time, and usually I'm arranging reds and oranges and those colors, but occasionally I branch out."

Once everyone's arrangements are done, it's time to hit the road again. Millen is delivering flowers to a Meals On Wheels program at an area senior center.

"You're really popular when you're the flower lady,” she said. “Yeah, people are really happy to get them."

That includes senior citizen Andrea Sawyer.

"I think they're beautiful," Sawyer said. "I think it makes it more homey, more friendly, and they're very positive. They make everybody feel positive."

It is a feeling The Flower Shuttle hopes will give everyone pause when they buy flowers.

"If you do have a big event and you have a lot of flowers, maybe look into some charity that will reuse, recycle and give them another life," Millen said. "This is just creativity and beauty and it makes people happy, as you can see – and I come out there feeling really satisfied."