Hearts across the entire nation broke when news surfaced about the December 14th shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. We couldn’t even imagine what it must be like to be one of those families, one of those students or teachers, coping with the horrific loss of loved ones, many of them so young. Immediately, the nation came together to help the devastated town through countless donations, prayers, acts of kindness and support. Before many of us could even begin to think of how to help, Belle Fiori heard about the generous efforts of the Connecticut Florists Association. Recognizing that such a small community could in no way accommodate all the flowers and arrangements needed for so many funeral services, the CFA rallied, with the help of other florists nationwide, to provide beautiful pieces for each of the victims and their families. Belle Fiori is truly proud to be a part of an industry with such a strong sense of community….

CFA Rallies Volunteer Response to Elementary School Tragedy

Dozens of floral industry designers and countless growers, importers and wholesalers donated their time and product in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14 that took the lives of 20 first grade children and seven adults, including the shooter, at the school. The industry’s outpouring of support for the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has meant that most of the floral tributes for families of victims were donated.

The Connecticut Florists Association (CFA) led the effort to ensure adequate floral supply and labor, knowing the demand for floral tributes would far exceed the abilities of Newtown Florist, the community’s only flower shop.

“We knew there was only one flower shop in town, one funeral home, and an unprecedented situation that would call for a big floral response,” CFA Executive Director Bob Heffernan said. “We immediately started asking (the state’s florists) for donations of volunteer time.”

After putting the word out, CFA offices quickly received an influx of calls and emails from floral designers in the state and region and from florists offering to travel to Connecticut from as far away as California, Arizona, Michigan and Alabama. Heffernan himself traveled from his office in nearby Monroe, Conn., to help Newtown Florist manage the overwhelming response effort.

Heffernan was easily able to schedule volunteers to supplement owner Judy Grabarz’s staff of seven throughout the week to work on “hundreds and hundreds” of tributes for memorial services and funerals, as well as flowers sent to homes and placed on tributes throughout the town.

“We’ve used about 25 to 30 designers, and they’ve been working on average 16- to 18-hour days,” Heffernan said.

A similar outpouring of support flowed in from flower growers and brokers who wanted to donate product to Newtown — what became “an incredible parade of flowers,” Heffernan said.

“This morning we got another shipment of six pallets, we’ll get another 200 boxes this afternoon,” Heffernan said Wednesday afternoon. “We’ve probably gotten close to 1,000 cases of flowers.”

The tributes have been dominated by bears, hearts and wreaths. “Lots of angels and cherubs,” he said. “And a piece with a ribbon with each one of the kids’ names inscribed on it.”

“It’s an incredibly somber moment when the parents (of victims) come in. The whole shop goes silent,” Heffernan said.

The other “job” CFA has handled throughout the week is keeping the media — sometimes as many as 20 satellite vans lined up along the street — away from the shop, so that Grabarz and her crew can give their full attention to the task of getting the tributes to the grieving families and memorial sites. “Judy doesn’t want any of that (media attention),” Heffernan said.

-Katie Penn