A week and a half after the worst mass shooting in American history, the heartache in Orlando continues. At vigils, memorials and funerals, victims’ family and friends have received some measure of small comfort from flowers and floral tributes, many of them donated by floral industry members across the country.
Local florists, including Danny Sexton of Kissimmee Florist in Kissimmee, Florida, say the past week has been “very tough,” as they work to support family members while hearing firsthand accounts and stories from the grieving.
“We’ve had 15 funeral services right here in our town,” Sexton said.
Kissimmee, a city of about 65,000 people, is about 20 miles south of Orlando. It’s home to the Osceola Campus of Valencia College, where a number of victims went to school.
Sexton and his staff members have participated in local vigils, including one at Valencia and another at a county office; they’ve also driven to Orlando to be part of the gatherings there, where a sense of community and shared sadness is palpable.
Sexton said one of his most poignant interactions so far involved a victim’s sister, who came into the shop on Tuesday, the day of her brother’s funeral, desperate to find a treble clef tribute.
“He had [the clef] as a tattoo, and she just said, ‘This is all that I want for my brother — the only thing,’” Sexton said.
Other florists had been unable to create the design on such short notice. Sexton, despite having four other services that day, knew he had to do it.
“How could I tell her no?” he asked, his own voice full with emotion. “It was the only thing she wanted.
Sexton said much of his work and product have been donated or heavily discounted. That generosity extends across the supply chain, with many reports of growers, wholesalers, suppliers, transportation companies and the wire services also contributing money, product and time to efforts to help the community.
“We’ve had [suppliers] send us boxes and boxes of flowers and we’ve donated a lot ourselves,” Sexton said. “Many of the [victims’] families don’t have money for funeral services, and we aren’t doing this work to get paid or to get attention. If you are truly involved in your community and you care about your community, this is what you do.”
On Sunday night, 50,000 people gathered around Lake Eola in Orlando to remember the 49 victims of the shooting. That event included remarks from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and several other elected officials.
MaryAnn Dessipris of 1-800-Flowers-Winter Park coordinated with 1-800-Flowers.com and BloomNet, who organized 70 volunteers to hand out 22,000 stems of donated white flowers to mourners at the Lake Eola vigil. (Sun Valley Floral Farm in Arcata, California, and The Queen’s Flowers, an importer out of Miami, donated the flowers.) See additional pictures from that event.
“You could see the grief and the agony on their faces,” she said. “But you gave them a flower and they would brighten up, just a little. In the floral industry, that’s what we do best. It was really touching.”
Dessipris — like a number of other local florists — also has reached out to local funeral homes to offer product and services to families and need.
As we reported last week, In Bloom Florist in Orlando was one of the first businesses to come forward and offer its services to grieving family members. For the Lake Eola vigil, the shop engaged volunteers and industry friends, including Orlando Wholesale Florist and Pixies & Petals, also in Orlando, to create a powerful and beautiful #OneHeart flower wall.
“It took a small army to pull off the #OneHeart flower wall, but it was you Orlando that turned it into something nobody could have imagined,” the shop posted. “Thank you for sharing your love, your stories, your help, and your hugs.”
The shop remains committed to its effort to help grieving families by donating funeral floral arrangements for the immediate families of the victims. Get additional updates on those efforts at the In Bloom Facebook page.
We’ll continue to cover these stories of generosity in E-Brief and Floral Management; we know there are many more. Have a story you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.