Bluebirds & Blooms
July 2022 – Grocery stores discard countless pounds of unsold flower baskets and bouquets every week. Most of those arrangements go straight to the nearest dumpster or compost bin. In and around Edina, however, unsalable flowers receive a second life courtesy of Bluebirds & Blooms.
This nationally acclaimed not-for-profit took shape after friends Laura Hogan and Karen Wooldridge met over coffee in early 2018. “Laura had heard something on the news about a farmer in Idaho who cut and arranged flowers as gifts for people receiving hospice services,” explained Executive Director Elizabeth Lind. “She shared with Karen how that idea had stuck with her for a long time ... and seemed worth trying here.”
Bluebirds & Blooms’ first, formative months were modest ones. The pair forged relationships with several west metro grocers, each of which agreed to donate a few buckets worth of flowers to their cause on a weekly basis. They commandeered a dining table to deconstruct and rework those donations into smaller but beautiful – and good-as-new – flower arrangements.
Hogan and Woolridge had no trouble finding memory care units and other senior living facilities receptive to the idea. As Lind explains, residents in these communities tend to receive fewer visitors than they would like – while also living farther from nature than they are accustomed to.
“When they visit to drop off flowers, our volunteers spark conversations and connections. Residents will take that opportunity to tell us little personal things: what they liked to grow in their gardens, or maybe about their wedding bouquet 60 years ago.”
While its mission and service model remain the same, the Edina-based nonprofit has grown exponentially since those early days. Volunteers presently maintain a delivery network spanning 48 different living facilities across 17 different Twin Cities communities.
In addition to a growing number of supermarkets, wedding venues and funeral homes now regularly donate lightly used flowers to the cause. This inventory allows Bluebirds & Blooms to produce and redistribute 350-400 arrangements a week.
Its headquarters in the Cahill Neighborhood, affectionally called “The Nest” by staff and volunteers, lives up to that nickname. It’s a veritable hive of activity most weekdays, Lind shared. “Mondays and Wednesdays are deconstruction days, which involve a lot of color sorting and composting of unusable material. … A different crew comes in on Tuesdays and Thursdays to arrange their little masterpieces, and these are also our delivery days.”
Lind joined the organization as executive director in early 2020, just as COVID-19 forced an abrupt reappraisal of this business model. “With the pandemic, senior living facilities needed to tighten [visitor] restrictions, while volunteers did not want to work so closely together in The Nest.”
Fearing that the carefully cultivated donation network would atrophy without regular pick-ups and drop-offs, and knowing seniors were feeling more isolated and inactive than ever, Bluebirds & Blooms landed on a novel solution.
“In those early days of the pandemic, we brought a mix of flowers and jars to seniors and invited them to make their own arrangements in their rooms as a fun activity,” Lind recalled.
Over subsequent visits, volunteers reclaim as many of these pint-sized mason jars as possible. “We operate on a shoestring budget, and containers can be a major cost,” said Lind. Eager to keep the cycle going, appreciative caregivers are generally happy to oblige. In a good week, Bluebirds & Blooms can recover, clean and reuse up to 70 percent of jars.
“What’s always drawn me is that beautiful intersection of kindness and compassion on one hand, and being incredibly utilitarian on the other. We take what’s going to be discarded and give it new life, all while brightening the day of our neighbors who need it the most.”
Bluebirds & Blooms was the recipient of the 2022 Mayor’s Service Organization Commendation.