Giving bouquets of beauty and joy


The Bloom Project of Prineville, which delivers floral bouquets to hospice patients, is seeking new volunteers

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Volunteers from The Bloom Project prepare bouquet deliveries for hospice patients.

As Heidi Berkman worked through her grief, she saw the positive impact hospice made on the patient - a loved one - and perhaps even more so, on the family.

A series of events coupled with a desire to make a difference in the lives of people in hospice care led her to begin what is now known as The Bloom Project, in 2007.

At its core, The Bloom Project model is remarkably simple.

Free flowers are given to people, who arrange these flowers in bouquets, and then the bouquets are given to brighten the lives of hospice patients.

"We started out of my garage in Bend with a few flowers and a few volunteers," Berkman related, "and gradually, over the course of six years, we've grown to serve between 300 and 400 patients per year in Central Oregon through five different hospice partners."

The flowers are donated from 25 different supporters, including grocery stores, florists, hotels, and resorts.

"We receive flowers from a variety of sources - from grocery stores, from weddings, from memorial services," she said. "And then all of the flowers get taken to our workspace, then volunteers repurpose these flowers into small bedside bouquets for hospice patients."

This year, the project expanded even farther to include St. Charles' palliative care program, and also moved into two new areas - Portland, Ore., and Sacramento, Calif. It remains an all-volunteer effort, founder and board president Berkman said, and is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Soon after its inception, The Bloom Project moved from her garage to a space in Bend's Cascade Village shopping center.

A group was also organized in Prineville, since there was so much interest here, Berkman said, and it was too much to ask for volunteers to drive back and forth from Bend.

"In order to be a wise source of people's time and resources, Prineville was just a little too far to ask people to be driving and transporting the flowers."

Local volunteers were trained, and donated flowers were procured from the Posie Shoppe and Oregon Wholesale Florists in Eugene.

Today, though, the Prineville group finds itself with a shortage of volunteers, according to local coordinator MaryAnn Powell. There are currently eight, she said, and while all are women, "we'd welcome men, too."

Being a volunteer with The Bloom Project is not difficult, according to Berkman. It simply involves picking up flowers from the Posie Shoppe, processing and arranging them, and delivering the finished bouquets to the local hospice partner. Volunteers don't actually deliver to the patient, she said, to protect patient privacy, and to avoid situations that might be too emotional for the volunteer. Many volunteers have had personal hospice experience before, and would find it difficult to deal with the patients directly.

"I think our volunteers do it to give back, and to create something that's very thoughtful, especially during such a difficult time for the patient and the family, but they appreciate the fact that they aren't dealing directly with the patient."

In Prineville, the group meets on Monday afternoons to work for an hour or so in the Pioneer Memorial Hospital's community room. On average, Berkman said, a volunteer could expect to work one or two hours each week. About 15 to 20 bouquets are prepared by the group weekly.

Even more pressing for the Prineville group is the need for a new coordinator. Powell said she needs to relinquish her position - but still be involved - to give more time to her other volunteer work.

"It's not a difficult job," Powell said. "It's just making sure everything goes smoothly, and that everybody knows when we have flowers, and so forth."

Berkman added that the coordinator must be detail-oriented, and be able to motivate and encourage the other volunteers. And even though the coordinator is expected to use email, they don't have to "have real specific computer skills."

"I think that the individual is passionate about The Bloom Project would be first and foremost, and secondly, they're a good communicator," she said.

Powell said she's been in the coordinator role for about three years - about as long as the rest of her volunteers have been serving.

"We just do not want to see this group fail," she said. "Nobody wants to take over the coordination, and so we're really looking for someone to do that."

Berkman emphasized that she's thankful for Prineville's support, and feels fortunate to have had so many dedicated volunteers for several years.

"Most of them have been with the project for three, four years now. We would like to see more people get involved. It's a really wonderful way to give back to people that you may never meet, but who just need that gift, those flowers which can provide so much encouragement to patients and families. Flowers can really brighten up a room."