Volunteers to bring holiday bouquets to veterans

Holiday flowers aim to cheer hospice patients in Palo Alto Veterans Affairs hospital

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.

The seed for this holiday project was first planted last month on Veterans Day.

"A group of us got gifts for some hospitalized veterans, and in just two days, so many people helped, including neighbors, friends, local businesses, art students from Palo Alto High School, even some kindergarteners! And the veterans were so truly grateful," said Karen Froniewski, the owner of Nature's Alley in Midtown. "So now, this is another opportunity, at this very special time of year, to let the veterans at the hospice know that they are remembered and loved."

Steve Sutorius, the head nurse of the hospice unit, said the timing for this community project could not be better.

"We have decorated our unit, and visitors often say that the decorations make it feel more home-like, and a little less like a hospital. I know the small, individual flower arrangements will be dearly appreciated."

Volunteers and donations are welcome, organizers said. Donations are being collected through Dec. 24 at noon at Nature's Alley, 2675 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, across from CVS Pharmacy. The cost for a bouquet for each veteran is $3, with 100 percent of the donations going to help cover the cost of the flowers and vases.

Organizers say if enough people are able to donate, additional bouquets will be made for delivery to the VA hospital's Spinal Cord Injury unit in Palo Alto, as well as to two long-care VA facilities in Menlo Park.

Volunteers can also help arrange bouquets starting at noon or deliver flowers at 2 p.m.

More information is available through Karen Froniewski, 650-326-3632 or contact Carrie Manley at

— Palo Alto Weekly staff

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Like this comment
Posted by Carrie Manley
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Thanks to this much-appreciated Palo Alto Online’s coverage, more people are pitching in right now to spread holiday cheer for our Veterans!

Thank you, Palo Alto Weekly, and thanks to the many kind, caring people in our community!

Along with the incredible generosity of Karen Froniewski from Nature’s Alley, a big thank you goes to Mountain View Greenhouse for donating flowers, and to the Summer Winds nursery for giving decorative greenery for the holiday bouquets for our veterans. Also thank you to all the caring kids at the Palo Alto Community Child Care program going on this week at Walter Hays Elementary School. Your cards for the veterans are beautiful!

The Palo Alto Veterans Hospital hospice unit has space for 22 veterans. If by some holiday miracle, we end up with more donations, we will make more bouquets for delivery at the hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury unit, and well as to two long-term care VA facilities on Willow Road in Menlo Park.

So, if you are free on Saturday at noon to make bouquets, come on by!! (No experience necessary!) And if you have the time and interest to help with deliveries, just come join us at Nature’s Alley by 2pm!

This “Holiday Flowers for our Veterans” project would not have been possible, if it had not been for all the people who so whole-heartedly supported giving gifts to our veterans on Veterans Day. Their support let us know two things: 1) it’s easy to organize this kind of grassroots community project, even last-minute! And 2) the veterans appreciate these small gestures more than we can ever know. Connecting with them, in their time of need, is the greatest gift any one of us could ever receive.

So a special thank you to all the companies and people who helped so much this past Veterans Day:
Nature's Alley,
the Fish Market,
The Palo Alto Creamery,
Bell's Books in Palo Alto,
Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park,
Sports Gallery on University Avenue,
Teacher Abby Bradski’s K class at Walter Hays Elementary School,
Teacher Steve Ferrera, and wonderful art students at Palo Alto High, the Palo Alto Café in Mid-town,
Crossroads World Market Specialty Foods,
Nicole Henri from Le Petit Patissier,
the heavenly Italian bakery, La Biscotteria, in Redwood City,
Diddams Amazing Party Store in Mountain View.

It should be noted that despite all this community generosity, there was one wish from one hospitalized veteran that we were not able to make come true this year… but maybe one day:

“That politicians who make the decisions to go to war should have to go themselves and/or send a close family member… to really appreciate and understand the many consequences of their decisions. That’s what I would like this Veterans Day.” (Veteran John Peterson)

For now, thank you to everyone for supporting this effort—and we hope, if it’s easy for you, that you’ll be able to make a small donation and/or help out on Saturday. Who knows… it’s obviously his busiest day of the year, but maybe even Santa will help out! Just like Palo Alto, he’s got the spirit!

Like this comment
Posted by Lou Sarbeck
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm

It is great that our heros are not forgotten.
Gainesville, Florida

Like this comment
Posted by Carrie Manley
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2011 at 8:04 am

Exciting news from the North Pole. While Christmas Eve is obviously his busiest day of the year, Santa is taking the time to come help make and deliver holiday bouquets for the veterans at the hospice.
We all hope you can come too.
(Little known fact: this particular Santa served 14 months in Iraq, and this is his first time in the big red suit. So if you are able to come and join us today in this community-wide effort, please take a moment to say thank you to Santa, because he's our hero too. He truly has the holiday spirit: "I want to do this!")
Also, a quick, but heart-felt thank you to La Biscotteria on El Camino near Target in Redwood City. This amazing Italian bakery is donating their incredibly delicious Biscotti this morning as an early Christmas gift for hospitalized veterans. A sweet gift, indeed. Happy holidays, everyone, and if it's easy for you, please join Santa at noon today at Nature's Alley for bouquet-making and who knows what else??!! :)

Like this comment
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, 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.

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