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Volunteers to bring holiday bouquets to veterans
Original post made
on Dec 22, 2011
Palo Alto volunteers are aiming to make the season brighter for veterans at Palo Alto's Veterans Affairs hospice by bringing cheerful, custom-made bouquets on Saturday.
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posted Thursday, December 22, 2011, 9:51 AM
Posted by Carrie Manley
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2012 at 9:35 am
As a new year begins, I'm grateful for an unexpected gift given this past holiday season, something more precious and beautiful than any present you might wrapped under the tree.
This gift began to take shape six days before Christmas, thanks to Karen Froniewski, owner of Nature's Alley in mid-town Palo Alto. Surrounded by fragrant flowers in her cozy shop, we pondered the possibility of making holiday bouquets for veterans at the Palo Alto VA Hospital hospice. Karen said $3 per bouquet would cover her costs. (Karen is a former nurse, and it shows in the care she gives to arranging flowers, and in the generosity of her most modest estimates.)
Next, VA Hospice head nurse, Scott Sutorius, provided thoughtful encouragement. "We expect 22 patients on Christmas Eve," he said. "So long as you can bring enough for everyone, it would be great." he said. "The small, individual flower arrangements will be dearly appreciated"
Thanks to www.paloaltoonline.com, word quickly spread. "One man just walked in and gave me $100. He said he was a veteran, and wanted to help. And one family brought $22 in change," Karen reported. "Another woman said she wants to deliver to the Spinal Cord Injury unit, too!" Mountain View Greenhouse and Summerwinds nursery also contributed supplies, and another mid-town neighbor, My Gym, offered tables for volunteers to make the holiday bouquets.
Christmas Eve morning, a nurse told us that 22 veterans would be at the Spinal Cord unit that night, along with the 22 vets at the hospice. Next, at La Biscotteria in Redwood City, master baker Augustine Buonocore and his beautiful wife, Angela, put what had to be their busiest day of the year on hold, to hand over two huge grocery bags of biscotti for the hospitalized veterans, to the cheers of their many loyal customers.
Now came the big question: would anyone actually show up on Christmas Eve to make bouquets? At noon our answer came, as retired teachers, parents, children, teenagers, Girl Scouts, and neighbors formed a bouquet-making assembly line in front of Nature's Alley.
In two hours, strangers became friends, and together, created 78 bouquets of red roses, white mums, evergreens, and silvery trimmings. They also assembled dozens of individual biscotti bags, and drew holiday cards, to go with some wonderful cards made by children at the Palo Alto Community Child Care program at Walter Hays Elementary School.
As the delivery time approached, one woman quietly mentioned that she was worried that she might cry when she met the veterans. Another woman said, "Don't worry, come with me and my family. Let's stick together." So off they went, this volunteer caravan of love and generosity. The caravan even included the best-looking Christmas couple ever, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, known the rest of the year as Eddie and Melina Foote of Palo Alto.
Eddie is our neighbor, 28 years old, who bravely served in Iraq for 14 months. The night before deliveries, I explained to him that my husband couldn't be Santa, since he was in Cleveland, Ohio, helping his gravely-ill mother and his father, a veteran of WWII. I asked Eddie if he would be willing put on the big red suit. "I can't be Santa," said Eddie. "I'm the wrong color." Eddie grew up on a Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana. Another neighbor, Lonnie, and I immediately said, "Who says what color Santa is? Eddie, you can be Santa!" Despite his initial doubts, Eddie gamely tried on the suit, and then stood in the middle of our street under the stars, practicing his "Ho Ho Ho's".
The next afternoon, after making all the bouquets, Santa and the rest of the volunteers visited every veteran at the Hospice and Spinal Cord Injury unit, and then dropped off the remaining 34 bouquets at my house. With my daughter offering to stay home and make our Christmas Eve dinner, my son and I loaded up the car, and drove to the VA's long-term care facility on Willow Road in Menlo Park. There, a helpful nurse guided us from room to room.
Two elderly female veterans said they loved the flowers and hugged my son. In another room, a wife tenderly fussed over for her husband, silent in his wheelchair. "He doesn't speak now. We have been married 53 years. I come every day," she told us. In another room, a veteran cried as he recalled how much his grandfather had sacrificed for him. "My grandfather believed education was the most important thing. I went to high school, and college, thanks to everything he did for me. I even got a Ph.D!" Then, he shared his pain. "My wife died of breast cancer three years ago. Now I have Lou Gehrig's disease. Thank you so much for bringing me these flowers." The veteran looked up at my son. "Make the most of your education, keep learning." "I will, sir," my son replied.
As we walked back to the car, my son thanked me for taking him. It wasn't even Christmas Day, and what more could I ask for? Thanks to family, friends, and our veterans, here's what I learned this past Christmas Eve: the most meaningful, treasured gifts we give and receive are the lessons, experiences and love we share with each other.
And Eddie, if you ever again have any doubts, please remember that from now on, it's official: you are Santa.