KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Knoxville charity reached a major milestone this week with its 10,000th delivery of flowers. But the story behind how Random Acts of Flowers started is truly inspiring.
Founder Larsen Jay beams when he talks about his non-profit. "It is such a great idea and it is so simple and has the ability to do so much good. It is quickly taking over."
Jay's passion for the program comes from a very frightening experience of his own. Four years ago, he fell more than a story and half from a ladder.
With his eyes full of blood and multiple broken bones including one of his arms, Jay managed to somehow get upright and call for help.
The accident left him in a wheelchair for more than three months. "In my hospital stay in that very first week, in the worst week, I was showered with flowers," Jay said. "It was a huge outpouring of support, but it really changed my mental health of recovery."
Jay's recovery included 11 surgeries to date. But even in his darkest days, he was thinking of how to help others.
"We noticed how many other rooms had no flowers, no plants, no support, no visitors. It just seemed obvious. We loaded up a wheelchair and just gave away flowers," Jay said. "That helped me so much."
From that day, Random Acts of Flowers blossomed into an idea that has now touched the lives of thousands.
As Jay regained his mobility, he reached out to friends to see who would support an organized effort to re-cycle flowers that are typically thrown away after events like banquets and weddings.
"I just thought how many flowers are thrown away all the time and how many people could use that pick-me-up," Jay said. "It seemed obvious. It was one of those ah-ha moments."
Others agreed and Random Acts of Flowers was born. Jay and his staff of nearly all volunteers reached out to event planners, brides and floral shops.
The idea was simple. They would pick up flowers, often saving places paying disposal fees, and re-use everything.
"We recycle everything," Jay said. "We recycled 14,000 vases. We recycle vases, ribbons, baskets. If we can't use it, we re-cycle properly. It doesn't end up in landfill."
Each stem is separated out and new arrangements are made. Then with the help of medical facilities, patients who have not had recent visitors or deliveries get quite a surprise.
"There's tons of clinical studies that flowers and visitors help in recovery, and there is no doubt what we do helps how patients recover." Jay said.
It's something he knows from being a patient to delivering the flowers himself. He has seen the smiles and the tears a random act can produce.
"We can't cure whatever illness they have or what they are there for, but for three seconds we can fundamentally change their mental state, change that life," Jay said.
The charity always need volunteers and flowers to keep their operation going.
Right now, Random Acts deliver about 600 arrangements a month and it's looking to expand to other cities.