Auburn Journal

Where kindness blooms: Petal Connection keeps hospice patients surrounded by beauty

By: Tricia Caspers-Ross, Reporter

Weddings, funerals, baby showers – they are momentous occasions, but what happens to the beautiful floral arrangements after the attendees scatter?

Most are thrown away, but others are donated – along with flowers slightly past their prime from local markets – to The Petal Connection, a Rocklin nonprofit that repurposes the roses, orchids and daisies into smaller bouquets that are delivered to hospices throughout Placer County.

Most months, about 750 bouquets are delivered. In months with flowery occasions, like Valentine’s or Mother’s Day, volunteers make closer to 1,000, said Jennifer Arey, founder of the nonprofit.

Recently a group of nine ladies, scissors in hand, gathered around a large table inside a storefront in Rocklin. Behind them was a long line of bright flowers donated by Raley’s, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Nugget Market. Volunteers chatted and laughed as they pulled out the wilted petals, sorted the flowers and reassembled them into posies.

“(The volunteers) are just so talented,” Arey said, “and I can’t fathom these beautiful flowers going in the trash after they sat on a table for four or five hours.”

The bouquets are placed in donated vases to be picked up and delivered later by hospice volunteers.

“It’s very meaningful and humbling to enter into these families’ lives at this time,” said Marilyn Bell, a Meadow Vista resident who’s volunteered at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice since 1996.

Arey’s mother was a florist, and after Arey’s grandmother passed away, she had a new understanding of how flowers could brighten a room and change a mood, but it wasn’t until her son went to college that she decided she wanted to fill her days with flowers.

The Petal Connection started in her garage in October, 2013, with one hospice facility recipient: Bristol Hospice in Roseville. It bloomed from there.

Soon she had close to 25 volunteers and a list of hospice recipients throughout Placer County, including Vitas, Green Valley and Sutter Auburn Faith.

In an effort to make the bouquets as beautiful as possible, Arey now has a volunteer florist who trains new volunteers once a month.

With new floral-arranging skills, volunteers have branched out with their bouquets, sometimes repurposing decorated soup cans or tea cups as vases.

Every week is a new puzzle, Arey said, as she never knows how many vases and flower donations she’ll receive or what kind of flowers they’ll be, but she always makes it work. She never shortchanges a hospice center after she’s promised a delivery.

One of her favorite parts of her volunteer work is the response she receives from the recipients.

One nurse told Arey the story of a very quiet elderly gentleman she’d been caring for. It was difficult to start up a conversation with him, but when she walked into his room with roses from Petal Connection, he lit up. He told the nurse he’d had 160 rose bushes in his yard, and he just wanted to smell them again.

“This unique collaboration … provides our patients an extra ray of sunshine,” said Vanessa Bengston, spokesperson for Sutter Auburn Faith Hospice. “The Petal Connection team puts such great care into the service, like knowing about a patient’s favorite flowers. It opens conversations and common ground for patients who otherwise rarely speak or smile.”

Most of the time, Arey said, it’s the families and caregivers who are grateful for the fresh bouquets. They often tell her the flowers brightened up a really difficult day.

“It’s a gift for me personally that someone is going to see God’s beauty at the end and know this world is good,” Arey said.

Reach reporter Tricia Caspers at triciar@goldcountrymedia.com