Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Community Interest” June 2007.
Sometimes in life, we forget to admire the small things – a fragrant flower, glossy leaf or soft petal. Those who live in retirement homes or who are hospice clients may appreciate those small pleasures more than the rest of us.
It was that simple, small idea that sparked a splendid group of volunteers.
“In 2000, we started making arrangements from donated flowers that had reached their expiration date and taking them to nursing homes,” say Francoise Bowlby, the unofficial head of Small Pleasures.
The group is comprised of 15 women volunteers. About half of them meet on Tuesday mornings and the other half on Thursdays at Bowlby’s home. Volunteers pick up the donated flowers from two Albertsons supermarkets and Trader Joe’s. They usually arrange flowers from 10:00 a.m. to noon.
Within a few minutes, spectacular arrangements take form. Colorful blossoms spill out of baskets and pots. The women’s hands fly as they lop off stems and discard faded blooms. Most of these arrangements are destined for lobbies and public spaces in nursing and rest homes. Some flowers are donated to the Senior Center.
How do they turn out such professional arrangements every week?
“At first, I gave the ladies a class,” says Napa native Carol Eichler, a retired professional florist who was in the business for almost 30 years. “But we’ve been doing it a long time now and the ladies are really good. Some of them are better than me.”
The others murmur their disagreement at her modesty.
Eichler works on a rose arrangement. Pastel roses rise in a dome, surrounded by white Baby’s Breath. The ladies agreed that roses make a big impact, but are usually the first flower to fade.
As each week’s delivery is made, the spent arrangement is retrieved, the wilted flowers tossed and the basket recycled into the next fabulous arrangement.
Volunteer Carol Berghout knows firsthand how the flowers are received.
“My mother is a resident at the Meadows,” says Berghout. “I often drop off the arrangements there and the residents call me the ‘Flower Lady.’ They’ll ask my mother when’s the next time I’m stopping by.”
Napa Nursing Center is another recipient of Small Pleasures’ arrangements.
“The residents love the arrangements and bright colors,” says Keisha Thompson, front office receptionist. “They’re so cheerful, even for family members. I’d like to say thank you to the Small Pleasures volunteers. These flowers brighten the days of our residents, their families and the staff. We really look forward to them.”
Bowlby gives a short history of Small Pleasures.
“The lady who started it came up with the group’s name,” says Bowlby, who has lived in Napa for 30 years. “Margaret Neimann was a nurse at Kaiser who had a double hip replacement. While she was recuperating, she was shopping at Albertsons and saw they were going to discard the expired flowers. She came up with the idea and she and her mother were given two huge shopping carts full of flowers.”
Bowlby says the group has received monetary donations from groups such as the Kiwanis and from some of the retirement homes. Although they’re careful with the baskets and containers, they can always use new ones to replace the ones that wear out. And, more volunteers would also be welcomed.
“You meet so many nice people. If you love flowers or gardening, it’s wonderful. I find arranging the flowers is relaxing and therapeutic.”
Volunteer Sue Eib calls it “laughter therapy” and refers to the group as “a great bunch of ladies.”
The group works whether it’s hot, rainy or cold. On pleasant days, they arrange flowers under an awning in Bowlby’s backyard, watched over by gentle mascot Dee Dee, a shepherd/coyote mix. The only part the volunteers don’t enjoy is the cleanup at the end, otherwise there’s lots of good banter and comradeship.
Eichler encourages anyone to volunteer. “You’d be surprised at what you can do. It’s creative and a lot of the ladies are very good at it. This is a great group of volunteers.”
Happy volunteers plus a simple idea makes Small Pleasures a large pleasure for those in need of a little cheer.
To make donations or to volunteer, contact Francoise Bowlby at (707) 254-7629.