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This Year, Skip the Flowers!

November 26, 2013
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Gary Oppenheimer, Founder and Executive Director of

I have one of those Swiss Army knives that has all sorts of capabilities.  It can open a can of soda, turn a screw and can remove the cork from a bottle of wine.  It can even cut something.  It feels so handy – whatever I need done, this little thing can do it.

Wouldn’t it be great if a car could also fly like a plane?  And how about a coat that could also function as a parachute in case the car didn’t fly as well as a plane?  Or maybe a paper book that could also be an audio book for when you are driving?

We can come up with all sorts of dual use functions for the things in our lives but most of the time, a car is a car, a coat is a coat and book is a book.

However, most things in life serve only one purpose.  You ride in a car or you don’t.  You wear a coat or you don’t.  You read a book or you don’t (OK… some people use a book to fill shelf space or to weigh down the end of roll of paper, but for most of us, we read it).

The reason the Swiss Army knife does so many things is both that it was designed to, and because most of us like to multi-use things where possible.  We don’t think of the car as an oven, but if you place a tray of freshly sliced plum tomatoes (sprinkle with olive oil and a bit of Kosher salt) on the dashboard on a summer day, you can make sun dried tomatoes, plus the car will smell great.  We don’t think of the coat as a life saver but that is exactly what keep a fire fighter alive when surrounded by blistering heat.  And we have all seen pictures of hollowed out books that function as a mini safe.

The holiday season we are entering seems to serve two functions too.  One of course is the celebrations we do with our friends and families, but it is also increasingly the time we hear about hunger and the need to help feed those less fortunate than ourselves.  Some of us reach into our gardens, some into our pockets, and some into our cupboards (actually – a terrible solution, but I’ll write about that another time) with the hope that someone else will be kept from going hungry.

What if we could make the holiday celebration (or any celebration for that matter) a dual purpose opportunity?

Wilted FlowersThanksgiving and Hanukkah are this week.  Christmas and Kwanzaa are in a month and the New Year is a week later.  Six weeks later is Valentine’s Day, then Easter and Passover, etc.  All along are birthdays, weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Confirmations, corporate events, intimate dinners, etc.  One thing that they typically have in common is that floral centerpiece in the middle of the table.  Pretty as it might be, it blocks the view of the person across from you, may make someone sneeze, costs a lot of money and starts to wilt in a day or so.

Invariably, someone usually takes the flowers off the table and puts them aside.  Problems solved and flowers out of the way.

This year, Skip The Flowers.

Skip The Flowers 1

Skip The Flowers 2

Skip The Flowers 3

Keep the centerpiece – just lose the flowers.

You can have a centerpiece that’s pretty to look at, smells nice and is a mood setter.  It can also be a conversation starter.

This year, create a centerpiece made of whole fruit and vegetables.  Don’t cut them and don’t pierce them with tooth picks.  Just arrange them anyway you like (or have your kids do it) and put it in the middle of the table.

It might be the start of a conversation we should all be having with our kids and those no longer kids, about hunger and doing something about it.

Odds are no one’s view will be blocked, no one will sneeze and it will probably stay there for the rest of the evening.  Which doesn’t mean it should stay there permanently.

The day after the holiday/special event/I just wanted a pretty table/intimate dinner, visit and find a food pantry near you (our network includes more than 6,500 of them across all 50 states) and take the food from your centerpiece to the pantry.  Leave the bowl or basket at home – you’ll need it for your next centerpiece.  Just take the food.

Food pantries almost never have fresh food – especially in the winter, so your contribution will be most welcome.  Don’t worry about how much food you are bringing – it’ll be combined with the food others bring.

This is not just for you at home.  If you are hiring a caterer for a special event or are helping to plan a corporate dinner, push them to Skip The Flowers.   Fresh fruit costs less than cut flowers, lasts longer, is typically better for the environment, and the donation itself may be tax deductible.

Of course if someone at the dinner is extra hungry, they can eat a piece of fruit (don’t try that with cut flowers).

For all too many people (1 out of every 6 Americans) who need a food pantry to help feed their families, your fresh food will be a welcome respite from the canned/boxed processed food they typically get.   Plus it’ll put a smile on their face.

This year, Skip The Flowers and you could win a $300 gift certificate to Gardener’s Supply Company. Be sure to take a picture of your centerpiece so you can enter it into our facebook photo contest in December.

Use an edible centerpiece on your dinner table.  Then donate it.

Let it grace your table one day and then feed another family the next.

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