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Random acts of flowering

With perhaps their best blooms behind them, the flowers at Trader Joe's get a second chance when Patricia Gallagher walks through the door.

Patricia Gallagher distributes free flowers to anyone who might need a floral pick-me-up.
Patricia Gallagher distributes free flowers to anyone who might need a floral pick-me-up.Read moreWANDA THOMAS / Staff Photographer

With perhaps their best blooms behind them, the flowers at Trader Joe's get a second chance when Patricia Gallagher walks through the door.

The 64-year-old author and motivational speaker gathers up the day-old bouquets most mornings, and packs them into her white Kia Forte, and sets forth on her daily mission:

Random acts of flowering.

That's what Gallagher calls the initiative she launched nearly three years ago, handing free flowers to anyone who needs a floral pick-me-up.

Usually that means residents at a nursing home or members of a senior citizen center that she's come across in her travels as a teacher of adult enrichment courses. Sometimes, the beneficiaries sprout unexpectedly.

"There's always someone who says, 'it's my anniversary,' 'my husband's birthday,' " said Gallagher, who lives in Worcester. "You always eventually know why you end up at a particular place."

Five mornings a week, Gallagher stops by an area Trader Joe's. Within hours, she typically distributes 50 bouquets and adds scores of miles to the 72,000 already on her 2013 Kia.

"The Flower Lady," as some call her, estimates that she has distributed tens of thousands of bouquets.

Earlier this month, the members and staff at the Senior Adult Activities Center of Montgomery County's Norristown branch were the unsuspecting recipients.

"It just lifted me right up," said Bettye Rose, 75, who is grieving the recent death of a daughter. "This is like the Lord saying, 'I see you, I hear you.' I love when that happens."

With a degree in education from Villanova University and an MBA from St. Joseph's University, Gallagher has written 14 how-to books, including Start Your Own At-Home Child Care Business and Raising Happy Kids on a Reasonable Budget. She's also appeared on talk shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and Sally, hosted by Sally Jessy Raphael.

But by May 2013, she was feeling alone. Her four children had moved out, and she had moved in with her aging mother.

Both women felt at loose ends - Gallagher without her children and her mother, Claire Jordan Mohan, without her independence.

The inspiration for "random acts of flowering" came from Gallagher's daughter Kristen, then 25. She had helped organize an AIDS awareness event and had given away flowers donated by Trader Joe's.

Performing such feats of generosity every day would not only spread a bit of good cheer, Gallagher thought, but would be an activity that she and her 80-something mother could do together.

Trader Joe's was an easy sell. The proposal seemed in line with the grocery chain's legacy, though not one that company officials like to publicly trumpet.

"Trader Joe's long-running policy is to donate products that are not fit for sale but are safe for consumption," its website says. Last year, it donated more than $295 million worth of products to food banks.

Within a week, Gallagher had arranged to make the project a mission of her church, Circle of Miracles Church and School of Ministries in New Britain.

So Gallagher, her mother, and eventually Bob Goodwin, the 90-something cofounder of the church, started their deliveries.

"One was on a cane, the other on a walker," Gallagher said.

For months they worked as a trio. Sometimes Goodwin played his harmonica.

Then, in April 2014, Gallagher's mother died at age 88. Several months later, Goodwin also died.

"My mother did all the works of mercy - feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty," Gallagher said. She was determined to continued that kind of work.

The flower deliveries went on.

Sometimes Gallagher looks at those 72,000 miles and wonders how long she can continue. But, she also conceded, "It just makes me so happy."

The recipients appreciate her efforts.

"Flowers do something special," said Linda Collins, director of the Norristown senior center, "especially if you are alone.

On a recent Friday, Gallagher and site manager Pat MacKenzie pushed a cart full of roses, lilies, daisies, and mums through the facility.

Inside the game room, a center volunteer, Dawn Enright of Norristown, chose a sad little poinsettia with drooping red petals. She announced she was going to spring for some potting soil in hopes it might give the plant a boost.

"If I can bring it back to life, I'm going to sit it in my apartment," Enright said.

John Stephens, a member of the senior center, accepted a bouquet of orange daisies and red roses - and said he would use them to surprise a woman on whom he has a crush.

"I don't think she sees me as the flower-giving kind of guy," said Stephens, 66, a retired machinist from Norristown, "but these flowers will come in handy."

Gallagher's latest venture is Claire's Front Porch. Named for her mother, it's a series of free weekly seminars at the R3 Wellness Center in Collegeville. She also hosts a free weekly session, called tea and conversation, on Fridays for anyone who wants to participate.

Gallagher calls it "a safe place to fall" when people feel stressed. She facilitates discussion, but doesn't give advice. Her subjects, she said, will include divorce, being bullied, and "when prayers aren't answered."

On that last point, Gallagher has a personal opinion. She said hers were.

"I was just praying for a purpose," she said.

With the flowers, she found it.