Vancouver, BC – during the summer of 2005, while driving home from work I would see an homeless gentleman panhandling everyday at the corner of Terminal Ave. and Quebec St. Everyday he waits by the same intersection for the light to turn red, and then asks (and often refused) as many drivers as he can for spare change before everyone speeds off again.
Most of us couldn’t dream of asking another human being for a hand (money) with even our best clothes on. Now try to imagine being this older gentleman with no home, no clothes, and no prospects, asking strangers that would rather not look at him for money, just so he can to eat. And some people are even violent toward him for asking.
One time, near the end of the summer, I saw him offering flowers to motorists. It was obvious the flowers were not commercially grown, or even presentable. But it was still a brilliant way to make others see the beauty in giving. This was the seed for Flowers for Food (please pardon the pun). I didn’t tell him my plans, not wanting to set him up for more disappointment in case I couldn’t find any flowers to help. It was then I began contacting floral distributors.
Amazingly it was easy to find flora discards because most of the time they were thrown out if they were too long, short, pale, or lacking a few petals in some cases. But most of these deformities are easily overlooked when accepting them from a homeless person needing to eat. And thankfully the flora distributors saw the humanity to feeding the homeless with what used to be their waste.
The most interesting aspect of setting up this project was trying to find charitable organizations that would help me get the flora discards to the homeless and less fortunate. Every charitable organization I approached agreed it was a worthwhile idea, but could not justify the resources for maintaining such a pilot project. And after several months of trying, to no avail, I basically let go of the idea and carried on with other pressing matters on my list of things to do.
One night soon after I was waiting outside of a coffee shop for a colleague and I was approached by a young man with a bucket of flowers. He asked if I would take one (for a donation) to help him raise money for food to feed the homeless. I was speechless.
Soon after I was in contact with Ellen Shontsa, the founder of the Mom’s Agape Street Ministry, and after a few phones calls and one meeting I learned more about their already successful campaign raising funds for charitable causes by exchanging flora for donations. Unfortunately though they had to buy most of their flowers from local vendors.
Today, The Canadian Flowers for Food Society delivers thousands of flowers a month to the Mom Agape program as well as other homeless people and charitable causes in Greater Vancouver. In fact the programs success so far is forcing us to get larger transportaion to keep up with the floral donors and deliver tens of thousands of flowers every week. Still, we are thankful for the progress so far with being able to create genuine smiles and joy for those who are obviously less fortunate. And we are optimistic the same efforts can be made across Canada, possibly North America, with the same positive results.
As for the homeless gentleman at the corner of Terminal and Quebec, his name is TJ, and I see him every week with his special delivery of flowers. He thanks me profusely every time, and I would like to pass his gratitude onto you, and those who support his efforts to help himself. Thank you kindly for your support.
Founder, Canadian Flowers for Food Society