1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Rosie Bumpus pictured in her hospital bed with her unexpected bouquet of flowers
Courtesy Rosie Bumpus
Rosie Bumpus is pictured here in her hospital bed with her unexpected bouquet of flowers. "It's these little acts of kindness that I thrive on," the cystic fibrosis patient said.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 9/28/2012 10:04:54 AM ET 2012-09-28T14:04:54

Rosie Bumpus, 25, has endured plenty of taxing hospital stays over the years — but this one was different. During this stay, Bumpus began to sense that she might not ever go home.

The cystic fibrosis patient’s lung function plummeted, and she felt like she was suffocating. Doctors struggled to help her breathe more easily, but nothing worked. The normally cheery Bumpus felt defeated. Right around then, she heard a quiet knock on her hospital door.

In walked a friendly woman bearing a colorful bouquet of flowers. Bumpus didn’t know her, and couldn’t figure out why she was there.

“She asked me if I would accept this donation from Random Acts of Flowers,” Bumpus recalled. “They weren’t asking anything of me — they just wanted to give me a bouquet. It absolutely made my day. ... My parents could see the difference in me after I got those flowers.”

Story: Boy, 8, donates $1,000 prize to little girl, 2, with leukemia

Random Acts of Flowers is a charity based in Knoxville, Tenn., that gathers up used flowers from weddings, memorial services, florists, special events, grocery stores, museums and churches and recycles them in a special way. Volunteers reassemble the blooms into bouquets and then deliver them to patients in area hospitals, assisted living facilities, hospice care centers and nursing homes. Since its inception in 2009, the charity has delivered flowers to more than 15,900 unsuspecting strangers — many of whom are elderly, frail and, quite often, lonely.

Image: Little boy presenting flowers to an older woman in ill health
Random Acts of Flowers
The charity enlists volunteers of all ages to make impromptu flower deliveries to unsuspecting patients at hospitals, nursing homes and hospice care centers. (The little boy pictured here is the son of founder Larsen Jay.)

Bumpus said her entire outlook changed after she received her unexpected bouquet last fall at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Doctors ultimately found a treatment that helped her recover enough to return home. She’s on a waiting list for a double-lung transplant, and she knows what she wants to do as soon as she’s healthy enough.

“After I receive new lungs, I want to volunteer for them,” said Bumpus, who lives in Maryville, Tenn. “Especially in the past couple of years when my health has gotten to the worst it’s ever been, it’s these little acts of kindness that I thrive on. It makes all the difference.”

Video: Man leaves will asking family to leave $500 tips (on this page)

Larsen Jay, 38, executive director of Random Acts of Flowers, started the charity after a grueling hospital stay of his own. In 2007, he tumbled off the top of a ladder while working on the roof of his workshop and fell a story and a half to the pavement below. He broke his left arm, left wrist, right wrist, right elbow, right femur and nose, and he fractured his face in 10 places. He said the only reason he’s functioning today is that his head hit the ladder instead of the concrete.

Jay spent three and a half months in a wheelchair and has undergone 11 surgeries since the accident. As he slowly recovered, friends, family members and colleagues sent him a veritable jungle of flowers and plants to cheer him up — but he couldn’t help but notice how many hospital rooms looked barren and joyless in comparison.

Image: Larsen Jay delivering flowers to a patient
Random Acts of Flowers
“A lot of people aren’t used to people doing nice things for them for no reason,” said founder Larsen Jay, shown here delivering flowers to a patient.

“It might have been the morphine drip I was on at the time, but I said, ‘We’ve gotta go back to my room,’ ” Jay said. “We took all the cards off of our flowers and started making deliveries to other rooms. We didn’t ask permission. We just did it. It was great.”

Story: At 83, he gave his kidney to a stranger

At the time of his accident, Jay worked as a film and television producer — but that act of giving beautiful flowers away to complete strangers kept coming back to him. He looked around online to see whether any organizations were repurposing used flowers on a grand scale, but he couldn’t find anything like it.

In 2008, in the midst of a crippling economic crisis, he tentatively asked some of his friends whether they wanted to help him start a charity.

“We got 199 donations, most under $100,” said Jay, who lives in Knoxville with his wife and two boys, ages 4 years and 10 months. “I had to use my own truck for a while. Then we got a donated vehicle.”

  1. More in Good News!
    1. Wheeled wedding unites couple with cerebral palsy 
    2. After 25 years, two friends win $14 million jackpot
    3. Teaching by toes: Armless tutor inspires students
    4. 'Random Acts of Flowers' cheer the ill, elderly, lonely
    5. At 102, she changes oil on her 82-year-old car

Random Acts of Flowers officially launched as a charity in the spring of 2009, and Jay now runs it on a full-time basis. The charity’s first formal act was to make a spontaneous flower delivery to the very hospital room where Jay stayed after his accident.

The charity buys nothing and recycles everything. Every part of a donated flower arrangement — from the vase to the stand to the foam to the foliage — gets reused in creative ways.

At this juncture, Random Acts of Flowers’ three employees and 125 volunteers regularly deliver flowers to seven hospitals, 34 assisted-living and nursing-home facilities and three hospice care centers, as well as in-home health-care groups and community health operations. The group sees the potential to expand nationally and perhaps even internationally.

Story: Tour de ‘Force’: Star Wars fans unite for ailing infant
Image: Flowers in a bouquet assembled by the charity Random Acts of Flowers
Random Acts of Flowers
Random Acts of Flowers has delivered flowers to nearly 16,000 unsuspecting people.

“There’s no shortage of flowers thrown away all over the world, and no shortage of people who could use a little pick-me-up,” Jay said. “It’s basic human kindness and compassion. ... I can’t see a reason why this shouldn’t be happening everywhere. If there’s limitless supply and limitless demand, why not?”

For her part, Bumpus loves thinking about a future time when she can stop being a regular hospital patient and can start cheering patients up by bringing them flowers instead.

“It’s a very simple way to show anyone — whether it’s a loved one or a complete stranger — love. Just pure love,” Bumpus said. “There’s no motivation behind it except to make that person feel better.”

To learn more about Random Acts of Flowers, visit the charity’s website by clicking here, or watch a video about its work by clicking here.

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter  or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: Man leaves will asking family to leave $500 tips

  1. Closed captioning of: Man leaves will asking family to leave $500 tips

    >>> back now at 8:20 with a harm warming story born from one family's difficult loss. erin collins died unexpectedly last month but left his family with a very specific wish. leave someone a $500 tip. they have done more than that. we'll talk to the family in a moment. first kerry sanders has the story. kerry, good morning to you.

    >> reporter: good morning. i'm at the old fort lauderdale breakfast staff where the wait staff hasn't seen this big tip but it's a movement you may have heard tips, to in sure prompt service. now it has taken on new meaning, the inspirational power of sharing. it can be one of the hardest, most thankless jobs in america, serving food and surviving on tips. erin collins knew that. he worked at a pizzeria in kentucky. 30 years old, aaron died unexpectedly. he left his family a challenge to do what he hoped to do someday, go out to dinner and leave a $500 tip. for fun, the family videotaped.

    >> are you kidding me? oh my god.

    >> his brother posted it online.

    >> he was trying to think about people who don't necessarily get a lot of appreciation but who no one is out there thinking of.

    >> reporter: it went viral leading to donations like 13-year-old nathan who sent $20 and wrote "inspired by your story."

    >> are you serious? can i have a hug? oh my god. the unbridled joy touching his mother. she grew up in the appalachians in a house that cost less than the first $500 they scraped together.

    >> he left great joy for us. i don't know that i could have survived the loss of aaron without this.

    >> reporter: now there's more than $50,000, enough for more than 100 $500 tips. waitress sarah ward , studying ecology always said she wanted to change the world but didn't expect it would be like this.

    >> always wanted to touch people but didn't know it would be on the receiving end as a waitress. i thought it would be for the environment or polar bears , not a tip.

    >> that's for you. it's $500 from him.

    >> reporter: 22-year-old graduate student was tipped wednesday.

    >> helps to know there's good people in the world.

    >> where does it end?

    >> hopefully it doesn't end.

    >> reporter: a sign this is a movement that is spreading. a passenger took a short ride in a cabin san francisco . ette out and gave the cabdriver a $500 tip and said it was in memory of aaron . savannah.

    >> kerry sanders , thank you. aaron 's family is with us. his brother seth, mom, tina ray collins and sister and joined by jamie fuller, one of the great waitresses that experienced this act of charity. good morning to all of you. this is a sorry about inspiration and generosity but i know your family has suffered a terrible loss. how are you doing, tina ?

    >> i'm doing a lot better than i would have expected. i think it's because of this. it gives us something to focus on instead of our grief.

    >> apparently aaron wrote this in a will a couple years ago. it had a pretty simple instruction, right?

    >> to leave an awesome tip. i'm not talking about 25%, i mean $500 on a pizza. that's where we started.

    >> he was pretty clear. don't go to the fancy restaurants.

    >> pizza, $500. that's a big tip on a pizza.

    >> what has it been like to be the giver of this generosity?

    >> it's been a huge blessing for me just to be able to touch people like that and see their reaction. i'm really nervous going into it. then as soon as i hand them that money, i sort of get to step back and let them control the situation and see how they are going to react. it's different every time.

    >> rachel, is this something in keeping with your brother's personality?

    >> yeah. he always wanted to do something to help people and to make people happy and bring joy to people. he was always about having fun , bringing joy to other people.

    >> and what is the reaction, generally, when you tell them, i'm leaving you this $500 tip? i imagine people are stunned.

    >> always been disbelief. that's where it starts. you're joking, kidding, not serious. that's always the beginning.

    >> let's go to the source on that jamie , you worked at a restaurant in kentucky. how did you feel?

    >> shocked. i thought it was a joke at first. you're getting through your workday and you're rushed. then this guy just hands you $500. what? this don't happen. so it's very shocking, emotional.

    >> i know one of the things you did was give back some of your tip?

    >> i did. i sent $50 back.

    >> that's really caught on, tina . you've gotten a lot of donations. so is the plan to keep on giving out tips?

    >> as long as the good people giving the money will keep gig, we will continue to give out the tips. i just want to say how thankful i am this is not just aaron 's week, it's people all over the country and the world now.

    >> you've done an amazing thing. i know you're keeping his memory alive as well. i want to thank you, collins family, for being with us and jamie fuller. appreciate it.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Keir Simmons Via Instagram

    'Hugging my children closer': Reporter home after covering MH17 crash

    8/1/2014 8:33:03 PM +00:00 2014-08-01T20:33:03
  1. Priscilla Motola

    Oh. My. Geep. Meet the half goat, half sheep who is all cuteness

    8/1/2014 9:05:08 PM +00:00 2014-08-01T21:05:08
  1. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

    Teens affected by terrorism find healing, peace at inspiring camp

    8/1/2014 9:32:07 PM +00:00 2014-08-01T21:32:07
  1. US scrambles to retrieve Ebola-infected Americans

    Health officials are trying to bring two American patients infected with Ebola virus back from West Africa for treatment.The State Department said it was helping organize the evacuations over the “coming days.”

    8/1/2014 3:47:06 PM +00:00 2014-08-01T15:47:06
  1. Matt York / AP

    Mansion or shack? That's the million-dollar question

    8/1/2014 6:47:36 PM +00:00 2014-08-01T18:47:36