As a medical student in Richmond, Virginia, Eleanor Love attended many weddings, even when she didn’t know the bride and groom.
But she wasn’t there to crash the event—she was there to collect the leftover flowers that would have otherwise ended up in the trash.
Eleanor, 27, uses these bouquets and centerpieces and repurposes them as gifts to lonely hospital patients who could use something to cheer them up.
One such patient is 68-year-old Connie Melzer, who stayed at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in early 2020 to recover from a heart condition.
“I just broke down and I cried,” she recalled when Eleanor walked into her room and gave her a bouquet in early 2020. “When you’re there six to eight weeks, it’s a big deal.”
Eleanor recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and is doing a general residency at Riverside Regional Medical Center. She got the idea of giving flowers to patients while working at the VCU hospital as a medical student, interacting with severely ill patients.
She wondered how she could help relieve their suffering aside from learning how to treat them as a student doctor. Because Eleanor was only a medical student back then, she couldn’t contribute as much to the care team.
She was there primarily to learn, but she also wanted to make an impact on her patients, even when she didn’t have the same knowledge as the physicians.
So in 2019, she launched The Simple Sunflower in Richmond, bringing fellow students and other people into her project of giving flowers to patients at VCU Medical Center.
Eleanor said this idea isn’t new; other cities across the country have similar programs in place.
When she began the project, she called wedding venues and florists to ask about upcoming events. She then reached out to the brides and grooms through wedding coordinators and asked if they had plans for their flowers after the wedding. Most often, they didn’t.
Eleanor gathers a team of eight volunteers for each wedding to help pick up the flowers when the party is over and spend time arranging them into vases for individual patients.
Once The Simple Sunflower got going, they would deliver flowers to 20 to 40 patients on a regular Monday. Volunteers who weren’t part of the after-wedding pick-ups would contribute by donating money or vases.
When people outside the VCU community heard about Eleanor’s project, the group attracted more volunteers.
“Once the word got out, folks started reaching out to us,” she said.
Eleanor has had a lifelong appreciation for flowers and gardening—something she got from her mother—so this project is a perfect fit for her.
When she was young, her dad took her to a garden store and let her pick a seed packet. She chose sunflower seeds and planted them, and years later, she named her group after it. She is currently working on getting the organization a non-profit status.
Eleanor also worked part-time in a flower shop before getting into medical school. She said she has read several studies about flowers and plants and how they help hospital patients heal faster.
A study found that looking at plants helps reduce pain, anxiety, and fatigue in patients recovering from surgery.
“Offering flowers to our patients provides the same benefit,” the doctor said. “Ultimately, that saves the hospital money if the patient doesn’t need that much pain medicine, or even if the patient can leave the hospital a day earlier.”
When The Simple Sunflower repurposes the flowers, they deliver the bouquets first to patients in palliative care.
“Being able to help deliver the flowers to those patients is very meaningful because you just see those patients’ faces light up,” she said. “You connect with them on a different level.”
This project is a great reminder of the humanity in medicine, and Eleanor and her team perfectly capture that with their wonderful mission!
Watch the video below to learn more about this The Simple Sunflower.
Visit The Simple Sunflower Facebook page.