//Big Hearted Blooms: Kindness Grows in Shaker Heights

Big Hearted Blooms: Kindness Grows in Shaker Heights

Brightening days with recycled blossoms.

By Sharon Holbrook
Sue Buddenbaum

Shaker resident and Big Hearted Blooms founder Sue Buddenbaum. Photo by Jason Miller

Two years ago, Fernway resident Sue Buddenbaum came up with an idea at her kitchen table. Why not repurpose the still-fresh flowers that are thrown away after special events? The flowers could be rearranged into smaller vases and delivered to isolated seniors who could use a kind gesture and a cheerful dose of nature. If it was possible in other cities – and Buddenbaum saw that it was, in a similar organization called Random Acts of Flowers – then it was possible here, too. And so Big Hearted Blooms was born.

As Shaker once again teems with summer flowers and greenery, Buddenbaum is hoping that Big Hearted Blooms will also be emerging from its temporary dormancy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the long run, though, the stay-at-home order may underscore how important this work is.

“I think our mission is going to be more important than ever as we come out of this crisis because everyone will really understand the effects of loneliness and isolation,” says Buddenbaum. “We’re all living it firsthand.”

Since 2018, when Buddenbaum and a handful of Shaker Heights women launched the nonprofit, Big Hearted Blooms has delivered nearly 7,000 bouquets. The organization started out with borrowed space on Larchmere Boulevard and now rents space in a Shaker resident-owned building in the St. Clair neighborhood of Cleveland.

Volunteers arranging flowers

Volunteers arrange flowers for delivery.

And there’s much more room to grow. Big Hearted Blooms started by donating bouquets to nursing homes and senior living facilities, and it is now adding hospitals, substance abuse homes, cancer centers, Alzheimer’s units, hospices, and even outpatient facilities such as dialysis centers. It’s staffed by volunteers who do everything from spending a few hours arranging flowers in the cheerful St. Clair Avenue workroom to picking up flowers from donors or delivering bouquets to care facilities.

With the recent acquisition of a cooler to keep flowers fresh, Big Hearted Blooms is looking for even more flowers. Donors range from newlyweds to florists and grocery stores. The new cooler, plus a steady, predictable volume of flowers, will allow Big Hearted Blooms to reach many more recipients.

“We’re just trying to grow as much as we can because we know we barely scratch the surface of what the demand could be,” says Buddenbaum.

If social distancing continues to make it difficult to reach care facilities, but flowers are available, Big Hearted Blooms will deliver to those on the front lines: first responders, postal workers, healthcare professionals, and so on. In late April, they made their first such delivery – to the Environmental Services team at the Cleveland Clinic.

“These are the folks that keep the facility clean, among other things. They are an often forgotten group but very much front line, and it was great to thank them with flowers,” says Buddenbaum. “We’ll keep celebrating our essential workers until we can once again serve those in care facilities.”

Growing a nonprofit from the ground up has been a tremendous amount of work. Buddenbaum says that at the beginning she didn’t really know exactly how much she was taking on, but that the Shaker community’s support has made Big Hearted Blooms possible. From donating vases to fundraising and volunteering, Shaker residents have stepped up. “It’s been an amazing experience, so much more gratifying than I could have anticipated.”

Learn more at bigheartedblooms.org.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Summer 2020.