Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Inspire Through Flowers gives new life and purpose to donated flowers

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Kara Peeler/Daily Senior Staffer
Volunteers at the Wednesday shift. Each bucket of flowers can make multiple bouquets.

Walking down the halls of the Levy Senior Center, volunteers are welcomed by wafts of sweet flowers and gales of laughter coming from the craft rooms. Volunteers with Inspire Through Flowers prune leaves and refine petals, with buckets of carnations, roses, hypericum and more spanning tables in two rooms.

The nonprofit gathers each Wednesday and Thursday to repurpose donated flowers into bouquets, which they donate throughout the Chicagoland area. 

Christine Costello, president and co-founder of Inspire Through Flowers, said the nonprofit collects donations from wholesalers and retailers of flowers that would otherwise go to waste. After accepting the deliveries, she said, the team of more than 60 volunteers breaks down the bouquets to revitalize the flowers and create new and improved floral arrangements. 

Then, they deliver the bouquets — along with cards of encouragement — to hospitals, veteran facilities, nursing homes, schools, shelters and more. 

“We’re using them to create joy and a sense of appreciation,” Costello said. “Just letting somebody know we appreciate you and all that you do. Thank you for your service.” 

One person sits and four people stand working with flowers at folding tables
The Inspire Through Flowers staff chat while they work about everything from gardening tips to hot takes on reality television. (Kara Peeler/Daily Senior Staffer)

Founding partners Costello, Cathy Palivos and Ellen Mink had all been volunteers with a similar nonprofit, Random Acts of Flowers, which used to have an Evanston location before closing in late 2019. 

Armed with the knowledge of collecting flower donations, the three partners and other volunteers organized and formed Inspire Through Flowers. Just a few months later, the COVID-19 pandemic began, so they adapted and alternated between garages to work out of. 

“A group of us did not want to let this go,” said volunteer Lauren Shapiro. “We loved the mission too much. We decided with zero money and an apron, we wouldn’t let it go.” 

Mink has opened a second Inspire Through Flowers site in Wheeling, Illinois. The organization has donated about 22,000 bouquets total so far. Palivos said they average about 65 to 80 bouquets a week — sometimes even up to 100. 

Members bring bouquets to a different location each week, Costello said. One such location was the Misericordia Home in Chicago, where members brought flowers to about 340 residential staff. 

Other events include supporting Ukraine by bringing about 195 bouquets for every teacher and child at the St. Nicholas Cathedral School, which has been accepting refugees. Shapiro recalled that there were no dry eyes at the event. 

Shapiro said the nonprofit brought about 100 bouquets to the emergency room department after the Highland Park mass shooting in July 2022, along with some bouquets for the mayor’s office, city hall and the police and fire departments. 

Volunteer Genevieve Wert said she feels “spoiled” getting to work with the vibrant flowers in the dead of winter. She originally came for service with the Chicago Botanic Garden, but stayed for the flowers, the company and the cause. 

A person laughs while holding flowers over a bucket
With a bit of shearing, donated flowers can get ready for new bouquets. (Kara Peeler/Daily Senior Staffer)

The volunteers have formed a close-knit community, welcoming newcomers and maintaining old relationships. Volunteer Yvette Jordan-Granberry said a lot of the team are retired women. The community service delivery is touching, she said, but she also enjoys the nonprofit’s community. 

“This is our opportunity to gather and socialize with one another and catch up on news and catch up on ‘The Golden Bachelor’ and just enjoy ourselves,” Jordan-Granberry said.  

Though Inspire Through Flowers operates under its own volunteers, it also sometimes hosts community service groups from outside the Levy Senior Center, such as a group of nearby PTA members who donated and came and made bouquets for their school, Costello said. 

As a green organization, Inspire Through Flowers’ volunteers take pride in knowing they’ve rescued flowers from landfills. Costello said they also use recycled jelly jars and save all rubber bands and flower food packets. They even shop estate sales to get ribbons to decorate the bouquets, she said. 

“Three and a half years, 22,000 bouquets to several hundred different places,” Costello said. “We did it.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @karapeeler

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