Random Acts of Flowers: Turning Garbage Into Grins

Larsen Jay doesn’t know anything about flowers, other than how happy they made him feel after a near-fatal accident left him confined to a hospital room.

The Knoxville, Tenn., native and former film and TV producer—“Erin Brockovich” is among his credits—was repairing a roof when he fell from a ladder, about one and a half stories down, onto concrete. He broke a lot of bones on that July day in 2007 and required “11 surgeries and counting.”

He was surprised by how much the dozens of floral bouquets, sent by family and friends, brightened his hospital room and lifted his spirits. “I had never been given flowers before, most guys aren’t,” he says. Restless and not knowing what to do with all of those bouquets, he began delivering them to patients who didn’t have flowers.

At his first stop, he met a woman, all alone and in full traction.

“She had a desperate look in her eyes, of ‘pull the plug, help me,” he says.

When he gave her a big bouquet, she smiled and cried.

“I couldn’t do anything about her injury or recovery, but for that second, I shifted her mental state from desperation to a little bit of joy.” 

He kept thinking, somebody must be doing this. But nobody was, until, a year to the date of his accident, he changed careers and founded Random Acts of Flowers from the warehouse he fell off. His wife, Adrian, a former journalist, handles publicity. Their children, Henry, 6, and Alexander, 3, occasionally join their parents on deliveries.

A nonprofit that’s fully-funded by private donations, RAF’s small staff enlists volunteers to recycle and repurpose flowers and vases from weddings, funerals, wholesalers and grocers, and deliver them, within 24 to 48 hours of receipt, to patients at hospitals and senior care facilities who don’t have flowers or visitors.

“We literally take garbage and turn it into grins,” Jay says.

RAF’s estimated 1,000 volunteers have made more than 65,000 deliveries in seven years. Jay is in awe of the sheer number of them and how hard they work on behalf of people they will likely never meet.

Headquartered in Tennessee, RAF has branches in California, Florida and Illinois—its Evanston location opened in January. For now, expansion plans include Indiana, Ohio and Utah.

Help RAF deliver smiles. The organization is always in need of volunteers, financial support, floral and vase donations, and local leadership.

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