When Eleanor Love was a medical student in Richmond, Virginia, she attended many weddings even if she didn’t know the bride or groom.
She wasn’t there to disrupt the celebration; she was there to collect flowers that otherwise would have been thrown away.
Eleanor, 27, repurposes flowers and centerpieces as gifts to cheer up lonely hospital patients.
Connie Melzer, 68, spent early 2020 recuperating at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center after suffering a heart attack.
“I immediately broke down and cried” when Eleanor handed her a flower in early 2020, she recalled. “It’s a big deal when you’re there for six to eight weeks.”
After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Eleanor completed her general residency at Riverside Regional Medical Center. Working as a medical student at VCU Hospital and interacting with critically ill patients gave her the idea to give flowers to patients.
As a student doctor, she wondered how she could help alleviate their misery beyond treating them. Eleanor was a medical student at the time, so she couldn’t contribute as much to the care team.
In addition to studying, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of her patients, even if she didn’t have the same knowledge as the doctors.
Thus, in 2019, she founded The Simple Sunflower in Richmond, enlisting the help of fellow students and others in delivering flowers to patients at VCU Medical Center.
Eleanor explained that similar programs exist in other places around the country.
To inquire about future events, she contacted wedding venues and florists. After the wedding, she contacted the brides and grooms via the wedding organizers to ask about their flower arrangements. Most of the time, they didn’t.
For every wedding, Eleanor gathers a team of eight volunteers to assist with picking up the flowers after the reception and placing them in vases for particular patients.
The Simple Sunflower would deliver flowers to 20 to 40 patients once they were up and running on a Monday. Those who couldn’t help with the wedding pick-ups could donate money or vases.
Once word of Eleanor’s idea spread outside the VCU community, more volunteers stepped forward.
“Once word got out, people started contacting us,” she said.
Eleanor inherited her love of flowers and gardening from her mother, so this project is a natural fit for her.
When she was young, her father took her to a garden store and let her choose a seed packet. Years later, she named her organization after sunflower seeds. She is currently working on obtaining non-profit status for the group.
Eleanor worked part-time in a flower shop before starting medical school.
Her claim is that she has studied various studies on how flowers and plants can aid hospital patients in their healing process.
The study found that staring at plants can reduce pain, anxiety, and exhaustion after surgery.
“We get the same benefit from giving flowers to our patients,” the doctor explained. As a result, if the patient doesn’t require as much pain medication or can leave the hospital a day early, the hospital saves money.
The Simple Sunflower gives bouquets of repurposed flowers first to palliative care patients.
The opportunity to deliver flowers to those patients is incredibly meaningful to her because you can see the smiles on their faces. “I have a different connection with them.” she says.
Eleanor and her colleagues do a great job of capturing the compassion of medicine in their project, which serves as a beautiful reminder!
Watch the video below to learn more.