Eleanor Love attended many weddings as a medical student in Richmond, Virginia, even when she didn’t know the bride and husband.
She wasn’t there to disrupt the celebration; she was there to collect the flowers that would otherwise have gone to waste.
Eleanor, 27, repurposes the flowers and centerpieces as gifts for lonely hospital patients who may use a little cheering up.
Connie Melzer, 68, is one of these patients, having spent early 2020 at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center recovering from a cardiac ailment.
When Eleanor stepped into her room and handed her a flower in early 2020, she recounted, “I immediately broke down and cried.” “It’s a major thing when you’re there for six to eight weeks.”
Eleanor recently completed her general residency at Riverside Regional Medical Center after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. She got the notion to give flowers to patients while working as a medical student at VCU Hospital and dealing with critically ill patients.
She pondered how, aside from knowing how to treat them as a student doctor, she could assist them in alleviating their misery. Eleanor couldn’t offer as much to the care team because she was only a medical student at the time.
She was there to study, but she also wanted to make a difference in the lives of her patients, even if she didn’t have the same knowledge as the doctors.
So, in 2019, she founded The Simple Sunflower in Richmond, enlisting the help of fellow students and others in her mission of delivering flowers to VCU Medical Center patients.
Eleanor explained that this concept isn’t new; comparable programs exist in other locations around the country.
She started by calling wedding venues and florists to inquire about future festivities. She then contacted the brides and grooms via wedding organizers to inquire about their flower arrangements after the wedding. The majority of the time, they didn’t.
Eleanor assembles a team of eight volunteers for each wedding to assist in picking up the flowers after the reception and putting them into vases for particular patients.
On a usual Monday, The Simple Sunflower would bring flowers to 20 to 40 patients once they were up and running. Volunteers who weren’t able to help with the after-wedding pick-ups could donate money or vases.
Eleanor’s idea drew in more volunteers once word got out outside the VCU community about it.
“Once the word got out, people started contacting us,” she explained.
Eleanor has always loved flowers and gardening, which she inherited from her mother, so this project is a natural fit for her.
Her father took her to a garden store when she was little and let her choose a seed packet. She chose sunflower seeds to cultivate and named her organization after them years later. She is currently working on obtaining non-profit status for the group.
Before starting medical school, Eleanor worked part-time in a flower shop. She claims to have studied various studies on how flowers and plants aid in the healing of hospital patients.
A study discovered that staring at plants can help patients recover after surgery by reducing pain, anxiety, and exhaustion.
“We get the same advantage by giving flowers to our patients,” the doctor explained. “Ultimately, if the patient doesn’t require as much pain medication or can leave the hospital a day early, the hospital saves money.”
When The Simple Sunflower repurposes flowers, they give the bouquets to palliative care patients first.
“Being able to assist in the delivery of flowers to those patients is incredibly meaningful because you can see the smiles on their faces,” she said. “You have a different connection with them.”
This project serves as a beautiful reminder of the compassion in medicine, and Eleanor and her colleagues do a fantastic job of capturing that in their mission!
To learn more about this, watch the video below.