On a rainy evening in July, Mary Wells Letson set out a fresh batch of winsome mixed bouquets on a wooden stand in front of her family’s North Asheville home. A sign announced “Free Flowers.” In less than five minutes, three motorists on Kimberly Avenue had pulled over to claim their bunch and chat with Letson, 16.
That’s been the pattern since the Asheville School rising junior began her flower project on June 1. She refills the table four or five times a week. “They go very quickly,” Letson says.
“Here is a piece of our garden for you,” reads a flyer attached to each bouquet. “There are a lot of negative vibes and sad news right now, so here are a few flowers to light up your day.”
Letson’s flyer goes on to suggest that recipients consider spreading the positive energy they gain from the gift to others. She lists a few organizations she believes are making a difference right now, including Homeward Bound of WNC, Working Wheels, Helpmate and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Among the 15 or so messages of thanks Letson has received is one from a woman who lost her husband to COVID-19. A friend had brought the flowers to her. “It’s been really cool to see how this project has gone out into the community and spread good energy and helped people connect and show appreciation for each other,” Letson explains.
In addition to collecting flowers, cleaning glass jars and arranging bouquets — which takes about six hours a week — Letson also volunteers Monday through Friday at the Hillcrest Apartments neighborhood, where she works with third- and fourth-graders on reading and math skills. She’s been helping with the Youthful HAND program run by Elinor Earle (see “Elinor Earle Fights for Asheville’s Children,” March 13, Xpress, avl.mx/7m9) since October.
“There’s something very beautiful about giving an arrangement to somebody and them maybe donating to an organization or looking an organization up and then bringing jelly jars back and filling them up and receiving little notes or talking to people as they come by,” Letson reflects. “The sense of community connection has been really important and beautiful.”
This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.