Newsmakers Making A Difference: Andrea Lutz, Random Acts Of Flowers

Lisa Fielding
July 26, 2018 - 7:24 am

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- It's a Wednesday at Alden Estates Transitional Care in Skokie where Random Act of Flowers is surprising unsuspecting patients.

"Hi Jim, I'm Cathy. I'm from Random Acts of Flowers."

A van pulls up to the main entrance with a cart of flower bouquets destined for new homes. 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"Flowers are the universal language of hope and healing," said Andrea Lutz, Executive Director, Random Acts of Flowers. 

"We've got roses, mixed bouquets, we've got Kale, daisies you name it, it's in here right now. "

The non-profit organization has been serving the Chicagoland area for two years, but it was launched in 2008 in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"In July 2007, our founder Larson Jay fell off a ladder while working on his garage and fell nearly two stories, slamming into the concrete below. He was in the hospital for 22 days and got dozens and dozens of bouquets from his friends and family. That was such a part of his healing process," Lutz said.

Jay and his wife noticed that so many people didn't have flowers in their rooms, so they started taking cards off his flowers and delivering them to his fellow patients.

"That was how this beautiful organization started, just that simple way to tell someone what you're going through is hard, but I care about you," she said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Now Random Acts of Flowers has expanded to four branches including Knoxville, Tampa, Indianapolis and Evanston. 

Flowers come from grocery stores, whole sale florists, flower shows, weddings and funerals.

"Typically we collect from all over the community, we have an ongoing schedule. We are two staff and a part time driver, but it's really the volunteers' efforts. They pick it all up, we disassemble here, we compost it on site if it's not going to last. We have another group of volunteers who redo the bouquets and another group who distributes." 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Inside a small warehouse in Evanston, dozens of volunteers, cut, fluff and bring new life to floral arrangements to be distributed to 300 hospitals, clinics and senior care facilities.

"I work about three shifts a week," said Susan Mathews, volunteer.  

"I love it here. It's fabulous. To appreciate nature's abundance when we're here and to be bringing flowers to people who might get a kick out of it." 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

There are 350 volunteers who repurpose and distribute the flowers.

"I used to design flowers and I teach at the Botanic Gardens. It's amazing and it's a gift to be able to do this," said Lauren Shapiro, Skokie.

"We all are here for a common purpose. It's a wonderful place." 

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Lutz said there is a science behind their service. She said studies show that patients with flowers have been shown to have shorter hospital stays and heal faster.

"Humans are innately connected to plants and nature. There are multiple studies that show people with flowers nearby need fewer pain medications, they have shorter hospital stays and better overall feelings. Those things are becoming more part of the whole health care industry like putting in horticultural therapeutic gardens in hospitals, doing nature walks. We are bringing that to people who cannot go out and experience that," she said.

Lutz said they've already expanded their services beyond just deliveries. They offer after hours, BYOB flower arranging, corporate days of service, and a floral therapy program. 

"We're looking to take this on the road to nursing homes where it can really help with fine motor skills and hand eye coordination," she said.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Random Acts of Flowers is green in more ways than one.

"If the flowers don't last, we compost it. At least we're taking out the rubber bands, the plastic. We turn thousands of pounds of green waste into landscape mulch. Everything's recycled." 

The organization serves about 500 people a week, and just delivered its 100,000th bouquet, a milestone marked by another smile.

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

"We see this as such an amazing thing. Overall, just to see the flower delivery to the person in the nursing home is just a drop in the water, but the ripple effect is so tremendous. From our caregivers, to our floral donors, to our volunteers, everyone feels good about it, we just have to further educate our community why it's important now more than ever," Lutz said. 

"Those are the priceless moments that I see that give me goose bumps. At the end of the day, we want to keep doing what we're doing and advocate care and compassion." 

For more information or to donate to Random Acts of Flowers, the 501c3 organization, log onto chicago.randomactsofflowers.org

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

As WBBM celebrates its 50th anniversary as Newsradio, this year we’ll be honoring 50 Newsmakers making a difference in the community.  Listen for reports each Tuesday.

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