Q&A: Larsen Jay, Founder and CEO of Knoxville's Random Acts of Flowers

Larsen Jay is founder and CEO of Knoxville's Random Acts of Flowers, a non-profit that collects donated flowers from such places as weddings and florists to donate to patients in area hospitals, nursing homes and hospices. Recently, RAF expanded into Florida.

Can you believe you're already expanding?

Yes! After a few years of running the charity, we started thinking about expansion in response to repeated inquiries from around the country, but at the time it seemed like such a far-off possibility. Now that we're at full-throttle on the national expansion I can see all the hard work we've done over the past two years to make it a reality.

What's your favorite flower?

Most definitely it'd have to be Stargazer Lilies. Whether it comes from our garden or a florist, it's very fragrant. The real reason is it's my wife's favorite and always brings a smile to her face.

Whose idea was the original RAF?

I came up with the idea for Random Acts of Flowers in 2007 after a near-fatal accident. While in the hospital I was showered with support from family, friends, and colleagues in the form of flowers. The dozens of bouquets really helped me in that critical first week. Once I saw how many rooms around us had no flowers, no visitors—really, no life—it just seemed obvious. We returned to my room, loaded up my wheelchair with my bouquets and made deliveries to fellow patients. The impact it had on strangers around us was profound and it sparked an idea. When we began, we were making 50-150 bouquet deliveries a month and now we're making 800-1,000!

Why flowers?

Flowers have a positive effect on most everyone. The giving of flowers is one of the few universal gestures that transcend all races, religions, cultures, income levels and languages. Many medical studies have proven that patients in hospitals heal better and faster after receiving flowers and visitors. I've delivered flowers to the grumpiest old man who'd bite your head off and the sweetest little girl; to the businessman and the grandmother, and the reaction is all the same: a smile.

Can you give a memorable floral delivery anecdote?

One I'll never forget happened last year when were delivering to Little Creek Assisted Living. One of the nurses said to me, "I have a fun delivery—grab the most fragrant flowers on the cart." Ironically, I know virtually nothing about flowers (professionally I've been a TV/film producer for 20+ years) so I stood there dumbfounded. Another volunteer, seeing my hesitation, handed me a big bouquet of beautiful Stargazer Lilies. Just before knocking on the patient's door, the nurse said "She's blind." I'd never delivered flowers to a blind person and was unsure of how it would go. I wasn't two steps in the room when this lovely woman sat up in her chair and pronounced, "Those are Stargazer Lilies!" The woman told us she was a gardener, smelled the flowers, held our hands, touched our smiling faces, and it reminded me that flowers can have a profound impact on everyone.

Have your efforts boosted the florist biz locally?

I would like to think so. RAF doesn't compete with florists. We are delivering to people who don't have a support system or are simply forgotten about in the healthcare community. Our mission and charity validates that flowers have real purpose and meaning. I do know some florists have had relationships enhanced with their customers because they partner with us. For instance I know of brides who were debating the price of their flowers and because the florist worked with us to give them a "second life" they chose a larger package knowing another person would be positively impacted by their generosity and our program.

How far could this expansion go in time?

I can't see any reason that there couldn't (or shouldn't) be a Random Acts of Flowers in every medium-large city in the country, or the globe for that matter! All around the world there's an endless supply of flowers being thrown away every day, a countless number of volunteers who want to help people in their community, and an infinite amount of people in the healthcare system who could use a smile. If Random Acts of Flowers can positively change lives, even if for just a moment, then I feel like we're obligated to deliver this successful Tennessee idea to the world.

For more information: randomactsofflowers.org