As a medical student, Eleanor Love started The Simple Sunflower to support her lonely patients. The initiative now has over 200 volunteers.
Eleanor Love knew, as a medical student, that weddings were responsible for a lot of leftover flowers. Rather than let them go to waste, she came up with a brilliant idea: she would call wedding coordinators up as often as possible, even if she did not know the bride and groom, to ask if she could stop by the event venue to pick up the couple's leftover flowers. After the couple's big day, Love would collect after-wedding bouquets and centerpieces to gift to her lonely hospital patients. Several of the doctor's patients have deeply appreciated the thoughtful token. Her initiative now goes by the name The Simple Sunflower, The Washington Post reports.
"I just broke down and I cried," one patient, Connie Melzer, recalled. "When you’re there six to eight weeks, it’s a big deal." Melzer, aged 68, was recovering from a heart condition at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in 2020 when Love walked into her hospital room with a bouquet of flowers. She is only one of the patients whose lives the doctor has touched. As a medical student, Love wanted to do more than just treat her patients medically; she wanted to help alleviate their suffering. Love shared, "One of the challenges of being a medical student is that it can be very difficult to contribute to the care team. You are there primarily as a learner, but you want to make an impact on your patients, and you don’t have the same knowledge as physicians."
Through The Simple Sunflower, she has delivered 760 bouquets to patients at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. The doctor even has upwards of 200 volunteers, including fellow students, who help her reach more wedding venues and more patients. According to Love, the initiative is nothing new. In fact, several cities have similar programs run by well-meaning individuals. While the pandemic has slowed down the project's operations, things are picking back up again.
Love typically calls businesses such as wedding venues and florists to ask them what events are scheduled. Then, through reaching out to wedding coordinators, she gets in touch with brides and grooms to ask if they have plans for their flowers following their weddings. Usually, couples do not. For each wedding, the doctor assembles a team of eight volunteers to pick up flowers when the party is over. The volunteers also spend time repurposing the flowers into vases for individual patients at the hospital. Prior to the pandemic, The Simple Sunflower would deliver flowers to 20 to 40 patients on a regular Monday. In addition to this, some volunteers donate vases or money to the cause.
According to the doctor, the patients benefit immensely from receiving flowers. Echoing the results of one study, Love confirmed that viewing plants helps reduce pain levels, anxiety, and fatigue in patients recovering from surgery. "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. It’s so gratifying to see the patients who receive our bouquets. It reminds me why we do what we do." If you would like to support the cause, you can make a donation here.