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.
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.
“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.”
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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
“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.”
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