Connecting Through Flowers – The Homeless Garden Project and Hospice of Santa Cruz County

“I have a particular patient who I bring flowers to.  She is a woman who rarely speaks and when she does, her words don’t always make sense,” shares chaplain Paulette Forrest.   “However, the first time I brought her a bouquet, I put them close enough for her to smell and touch.  She said clear as a bell ‘that is the nicest thing anyone has done for me.’  I was amazed.” Paulette is one of the Hospice patient care team members bringing bouquets to her patients.    “She cried and stroked the flowers for some time.  Since then she has not been able to speak much but she always tears up when she sees the flowers and smiles.”

The flower bouquets are donated to Hospice of Santa Cruz County by The Homeless Garden Project, a job training program for homeless men and women.  The program serves on average 15 people who are in need of recovery and teaches trainees about organic farming and general job skills. Many people involved in the program have been out of work for sometime, and the program helps renew confidence in themselves and their overall work ability.

“Bringing flowers out to patients is one of my favorite things to do. Not only are they beautiful, but who doesn’t like to receive flowers?”, said Jessica Brandin, HSCC nurse.  “I love talking about the community partnership we have with the Homeless Garden Project.  Patients and their families seem to really like this too, especially the ones who have been in the county for a long time and know about Homeless Garden Project.  Other people who don’t know about the project get excited to learn about it.” Social worker, Jori Leslie agrees and shares, “It’s a wonderful feeling to walk into a patient’s home with a bouquet of flowers; they usually smile pretty big!”

Another HSCC nurse, Tricia Keenan, became involved in the Homeless Garden Project as a volunteer in the kitchen and is now managing the program’s Flower Enterprise. She has the opportunity to work out in the field with Homeless Garden Project trainees and also in the holiday store workshop.  “I have been able to see how the program has helped people regain confidence in themselves through committed work,” said Tricia.  It takes many hands to bring these beautiful bouquets to our patients.  The flowers are planted and maintained by farm trainees and harvested and arranged every Tuesday.  A volunteer from Hospice of Santa Cruz County picks them up and brings them to the office for staff to bring to our patients.

Tricia commented, “The trainees are excited to know that their work is being enjoyed in the community. Not only do they get to be a part of the process of growing healthy organic food but they also are able to grow flowers that inspire others. The trainees are proud to know that their flower bouquets are being distributed to hospice patients. It really is an amazing partnership!”

Employees of Hospice of Santa Cruz County with family members receiving care from HSCC have been touched by the project too.  Linda Stephens, Clinical Administrative Assistant said, “When my Oma was on hospice I would bring her flowers from the project and let me tell you her little face would light up like a Christmas tree!  Even if she was in bed and not feeling well she would ask me to bring the flowers in her room and she would put them on her table so she could look at them.  Oma would tell me the flowers always made her happy.  Of course if you took her a bag of chips with those flowers you were queen for the day. Thanks to all that work at the garden project.”

Hospice of Santa Cruz County is grateful to The Homeless Garden Project for helping us to brighten our patients’ days by connecting through flowers.