At St. Brendan High School on a Monday afternoon, the outside patio near the main office had been transformed into what looked like a florist's studio: mountains of flowers lined three rectangular tables, and dozens of students were hard at work, chopping stems and grouping them into multicolored vases.
"We're out of vases," Amanda Taylor, 17, told her mother Myrna, who promptly got in her car to go buy more.
Since September of 2018, Amanda has been running Blooms4Smiles, an organization that recycles flowers from events and flower shops that would have otherwise been dumped. Instead of going to the garbage, the flowers are turned into individual bouquets to be distributed at nursing homes and hospitals.
The idea came to Amanda when she was working with her mother's bridal planning company, Taylor Event Designs. They were doing a wedding at Curtiss Mansion, a 7-acre historic property in Miami Springs, when Amanda became aware of how much plant life was going to waste.
"Usually after an event, when flowers don't get taken, they get dumped in the nearest dumpster. So all these flowers that are beautifully intact get thrown away," Amanda said.
Since then, Amanda has been working with her mother's help to spread the word about Blooms4Smiles, even attending conferences for florists and event planners. Clients must of course consent to having their flowers donated and recycled following their event, so the goal is to create awareness about the waste and let people know there is an alternative to throwing all that beauty away.
Amanda estimated that Blooms4Smiles receives a big flower donation from a large-scale event about once every two months, like when a bride who was working with the planning company Rodristudio donated all the bouquets from her wedding.
More frequently, florists will call to let her know they have a semi-fresh batch of flowers that cannot be sold but are still in good enough condition to be re-purposed. Some of the shops that work with her include Jet Fresh Flower Distributor and Tropical Blooms.
"The people that are receiving these flowers don't really care about how they look," Amanda said. "They just love the fact that they're loved, and they know they're worth it."
Blooms4Smiles has delivered flowers to The Palace Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Fair Havens Center, The West Gables Rehabilitation Hospital, and Residential Plaza Blue Lagoon. The goal is to expand to day-cares and hospitals, as well.
Amanda chose to initially focus on nursing homes after her own personal experience with them: "I would go visit my grandmother in her nursing home, and I would see patients without flowers by their bedside, and without visitors at all."
Amanda's maternal grandmother passed away before she was born. To honor her memory, Amanda chose what used to be her favorite number, 4, to be a part of the name of the organization.
Her plan is to one day run Blooms4Smiles from an office building. Her family is moving to Georgia soon, and Amanda said she already has contacts there who can help her get the operation going.
For now, though, she has her fingers crossed while waiting to hear back from the Silver Knight Awards, which are sponsored by The Miami Herald and recognize outstanding high school seniors. Amanda was nominated for the business category.
She is graduating from St. Brendan in May, and said she was glad the school had allowed her to bring Blooms4Smiles to her classmates. "They're doing amazing!" she said with a smile in regards to her friends' bouquet-building abilities. "They're really just making the arrangements beautifully, and I think it's going to turn out beautifully when we deliver them."
After nearly two hours of flower-arranging, mini-bouquets were lining every table on the patio, and Myrna had not even returned with the additional vases needed. The students, mostly girls, kept themselves busy by organizing the ready vases into boxes, cleaning up the trash and finishing inserting special Valentines' day messages into every arrangement.
It read: "You are worthy, you are loved, you are enough, you are irreplaceable."