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Catholic Vancouver April 24, 2019

Students, flowers bring tears to seniors’ eyes

By Terry O'Neill

Students from Holy Cross Regional Secondary in Surrey, along with teacher Jeff Cabralda, get ready to deliver plants to Elim Village. (Submitted photos)

When one thinks of spring, one naturally thinks of blossoms, flowers and fresh beginnings. And when we Catholics think of Easter, we naturally think of God’s special love for humanity and for the precious gift of life that he has given us.  Put those two thoughts together, and you have the roots of the annual Blooms into Rooms project.

This past Holy Saturday, upwards of 100 Blooms volunteers, from school children to retired folks like myself, visited a dozen seniors-care facilities in Maple Ridge, Coquitlam, Port Moody and Surrey, giving a total of 1,200 residents an African violet, a hand-made greeting card, and—perhaps of greatest value—a visit, a pat on the back, or a hug.

It’s our way of bringing to life a key part of the Prayer for Reverence for Life – that we should respect, honour and treasure human life from conception until its natural end. As well, it’s bringing to life the second great commandment – love your neighbour as yourself.

Wim Vander Zalm and Terry O’Neill prepare for the deliver of flowers to 1,200 senior citizens.


And, of course, with the lives of the elderly being evermore dvalued in the wake of the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide in Canada, our annual project might also be seen as something of a counter-cultural push-back, rather like that famous photo of an American anti-war protester putting a flower in barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle

On the morning of April 20 this year, though, our minds were turned primarily to logistical questions as our area coordinators gathered at Art Knapp’s in Port Coquitlam to load up their share of the flowers, so generously donated every year by the store’s owner, Wim Vander Zalm.

The sky was blue, the sun shone bright, and our hearts were happy as we successfully loaded the 15-plant flats of multi-coloured flowers into our SUVs, trucks, and vans and headed off to meet our volunteers. Participating parishes this year were St. Patrick’s and St. Luke’s of Maple Ridge; Our Lady of Fatima, St. Clare of Assisi and All Saints of Coquitlam; and St. Joseph’s of Port Moody. A group of music students from Holy Cross Regional Secondary in Surrey also joined for the first time, as well as volunteers from other churches.

As the years go by and the project continues to grow, benefactor Vander Zalm grows ever more pleased with its success. “I think one of the biggest reasons I love supporting Blooms into Rooms is because it’s full circle,” he told me recently.

“It’s the elderly, those who maybe don’t have family or friends. It involves youth, where they get to be a part of their community, by bringing flowers to people who truly appreciate a little visit, and a personalized, handmade card. It’s just a full circle of all good, all happiness. The recipients are so appreciative of the flower, and the kids get so much seeing the results of this very simple little project that we do.”

Indeed, one of our area coordinators, Elizabeth Loch of St. Patrick’s, reports that the seniors at one long-term care centre were simply “thrilled to see the kids, and many wiped away tears. They were so overjoyed and surprised to receive the lovely flowers and hand-made cards, which they will treasure.”

To brighten someone’s day and to lighten someone’s heart. What more could we ask?

Cards made by parish children for seniors.

I am deeply appreciative of the support Blooms into Rooms has received since we dreamed it up a quarter of a century ago while at a monthly meeting of our parish’s pro-life committee. We started small 25 years ago, visiting only 75 seniors at Eagle Ridge Manor in Port Moody.

Now, with the blossoming of the project over the past three years, the impact on our volunteers, the seniors, the staff at the facilities we visit, and on the wider community continues to grow in a positive, life-affirming direction.

We give flowers, cards made by parish children, and our time. But, of course, what we are really doing is giving that most precious gift of all, love.

“Spread love everywhere you go,” Saint Teresa of Calcutta told us. “... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.”

That’s what we’re trying to do, and it seems to be working.

Terry O’Neill is former journalist and a recently retired Coquitlam City Councillor.

Volunteers bringing flowers to the elderly as part of the Blooms to Rooms project.
St. Luke’s Parish PREP Confirmation Class students deliver African violets and home-made cards to residents at Baillie House Extended care facility.