Moved to start by husband’s suicide attempt: ‘Flower lady’ brings beauty to those who need it most

Local Life July 18, 2014 0 Comments

Something as seemingly simple as a bouquet of flowers can bring so much joy into the life of a total stranger, as Patricia Gallagher constantly proves.

Something as seemingly simple as a bouquet of flowers can bring so much joy into the life of a total stranger, as Patricia Gallagher constantly proves.

by Carole Verona

Trisha Gallagher has only missed 10 days of work since May of 2013. That’s not bad when you stop to consider that her full-time job as head of The Happy Flower Day Project is a volunteer one.

Every day Trisha makes arrangements to stop at a nearby Trader Joe’s and picks up the day-old bouquets of flowers that the store would automatically discard. She packs as many flowers into her car as she possibly can and, alone or with the help of volunteers, delivers them to the residents, patients and staff at area nursing homes and hospitals. And on the way, she might pull her car over to a Wawa or bus stop and hand them out to people waiting in line.

“There’s no written plan or formal schedule of events. I don’t go out with a business card or a flyer. It’s just random. I’m coming from a spiritual place, just trusting that whoever is supposed to get the flowers that day will be there,” she said.

Trisha, who asked that her age not be mentioned, was inspired to do this by her daughter, Kristen (now 27), who gave flowers last year to volunteers at an ActionAids fundraiser. “All of a sudden I wondered what Trader Joe’s does with their extra flowers.” When she contacted Trader Joe’s, they said they only donate to organizations with a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt designation. So Trisha asked Circle of Miracles Church in New Britain, PA, to make her Flower Lady Project part of its outreach ministry. Now, anybody who donates flowers or money can claim a tax deduction.

By the way, the 10 days she took off were due to inclement weather or to the fact that for some reason Trader Joe’s had no flowers to give away on a particular day. And yes, Trisha admits with a dash of guilt that she did take less than a handful of vacation days as well.

“When I go into a nursing home, I see the joy and the excitement that the flowers bring. My visit provides a change of pace for the residents, and the flowers serve as a conversation piece,” she said. “I also give flowers to the staff because they work hard and don’t get paid a lot. Many take public transportation to get to work, traveling from the city to the suburbs. They need to be recognized. Whatever positive energy you give to them, they pass along to the residents or patients. I’m addicted to doing this work and to the feeling and sense of purpose it gives me. My volunteers and I have a lot of fun popping in and out of places.”

Trisha Gallagher unloads her car at the Fairview Care Center on Paper Mill Road in Wyndmoor. (Photo by Carole Verona)

Trisha Gallagher unloads her car at the Fairview Care Center on Paper Mill Road in Wyndmoor. (Photo by Carole Verona)

Trisha, who lives in Chalfont, said that she doesn’t know how much longer she can do this without financial assistance. “I fill my gas tank three times a week, at about $48 a clip. I put 100 miles a day on my car. A one-way trip from Chalfont to Philadelphia is 34 miles,” she calculates. “If I deliver 40 bouquets of flowers a day for 300 days, that’s 12,000 bouquets a year. Sometimes after a major holiday, there are even more flowers left over at Trader Joe’s. They had so many beautiful plants after Thanksgiving that I had to contact my Facebook friends, asking those with SUVs if they could meet me somewhere and help.

“Maybe there’s somebody out there who for one reason or another can’t visit their mother in a nursing home. If that person makes a $100 donation in honor of their mother, then I could deliver flowers to 100 people that day. A Rotary Club group, a Ladies Auxiliary, a VFW post … each could sponsor one day a week for $100. That means 100 people in a nursing home could get flowers that day.” Trisha would invite group members to accompany her to distribute the flowers and the happiness that goes with them.

If Trisha could have anything in the world, she would like to be on the Today Show or Good Morning America to talk about the flower project and to share her experience on how to do it with others throughout the country. She would tell people about the pitfalls, the challenges and the excitement of it. “If I can give out 12,000 flowers in 10 months, imagine what two people in each of the 50 states could do. That would be 1,200,000 flowers rescued, recycled and repurposed at no expense to anybody.” She stressed, however, that she is not ready to give up the project locally.

Trisha’s philanthropic work isn’t new or recent. Back in the 1990s when her husband was experiencing severe depression, Trisha didn’t know what it was or how to deal with it. “We had a nice lifestyle. He had a good job, and I was a stay-at-home mom. But he was tired, sad and anxious. His depression lasted for a while, and then he attempted suicide.

“Our family went through a difficult time, and I was totally overwhelmed. I don’t know where the words came from because I wasn’t what you would call an ‘angel’ person, but one day a prayer came to me: ‘I need a team of angels, Lord. I don’t think one will do.’ I made pins with three angels on them signifying peace in our heart, peace in our home and peace in the world and attached them to copies of the poem.” Trisha’s kids were 9, 12, 14 and 16 at the time. “We went around and put the pins and poems in the mailboxes of people we knew who were having a hard time,” she said. The mission was to spread hope and comfort, one angel pin at a time!

Eventually, she had 10,000 pins and poems made, and this time she added a message on the back: “Keep this pin until you need it, then pass it along.” Trisha then contacted a local newspaper and a TV station to announce that the pins would be on her front porch, available for free to anyone who felt overwhelmed and wanted to come and get one. Over 5,000 people showed up. She gave the rest of the pins to McGuire Air Force Base for those who were being deployed and also sent them to bases in Macedonia and the Balkans during the war in Kosovo.

Trisha estimates that over the years approximately 125,000 people have received poems and pins. She has received 30,000 letters of appreciation, making this project the one closest to her heart. Although she and her husband are no longer together, Trisha continues with the Team of Angels pin project. She has a few thousand left, which she wants to give away to a support group, to people with family members in prison or in recovery, or to a children’s hospital or Ronald McDonald House.

Ten years after her husband’s suicide attempt, Trisha, her husband and their children wrote and self-published a book called “No More Secrets: A Family Talks About Depression and Anxiety and Attempted Suicide.” The book is available on amazon.com. “The process of writing the book gave us a purpose and united us,” she said.

Trisha, second from left (she is 5-foot-11), often engages in “random acts of flowering” to strangers whom she meets on the street, as she did here on a  street in Doylestown in March of this year.

Trisha, second from left (she is 5-foot-11), often engages in “random acts of flowering” to strangers whom she meets on the street, as she did here on a street in Doylestown in March of this year.

In addition to “No More Secrets,” Trisha has written several other books. Two of them triggered guest appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show. The first time was in 1989 after Doubleday published “Start Your Own At Home Childcare Business.” (After it came out, Publishers Weekly magazine did a full-page story, complete with a photograph of Patricia and her children.)

The second appearance with Oprah was in 1994 when she wrote “Raising Happy Kids on a Reasonable Budget” (F&W Publications). She has also appeared on the CBS Early Morning Show, CNN, Financial Network News and other shows. Her books have been featured and reviewed in leading publications such as Family Circle, Wall Street Journal, Parents Magazine and Woman’s World.

Trisha holds a BA in education from Villanova University and an MBA in finance from St. Joseph’s University. She has been a media consultant/product spokesperson for several major brands including Holiday Inn and Johnson & Johnson’s Red Cross First Aid Kits and has worked with public relations/communications firms such as Ruder-Finn and Burson-Marstellar.

More information at patricia@patriciausa.com, 267-939-0365 or www.patriciausa.com.

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