(CNN)A Utah nursery stuck with hundreds of thousands of potted flowers because of the coronavirus pandemic is giving away as many of the plants as it can -- with an assist from volunteers and United Parcel Service drivers.
A Utah nursery is giving away thousands of flowers after millions in orders were canceled because of coronavirus
Milgro Nursery supplies grocery stores and large retailers around the US and workers have spent months nurturing potted tulips, daffodils and other flowers and plants to get ready for the spring rush, marketing director Cherilyn Smith told CNN.
"We were heading into our busiest season when the Covid-19 crisis broke out," she said. "We had the largest amount of inventory on our bench just prior to this crisis hitting."
She said the company, which her father started 40 years ago, has suffered millions of dollars in losses.
The flowers only look nice for a limited time, but Smith said they'll keep giving them out for as long as they last. Whatever they are unable to distribute will wind up in the trash.
Holiday services and traditional family gatherings have been canceled, or held virtually, because of stay-at-home restrictions and grocery store shoppers have been more worried about buying toilet paper than tulips, so demand for flowers has crashed.
Smith said many clients have canceled orders, leaving Milgro with greenhouses full of plants in Utah and at their facility in Oxnard, California.
"It's like a sea of blooming flowers and to know that each one of those flowers were going to go in somebody's house and brightening their day (is heartbreaking)," she said. "I couldn't stand the thought of these flowers going to waste."
Smith started calling nursing homes around nearby St. George, Utah, to see if they could drop off flowers for their residents.
"They are on complete lockdown with no ability to see their family or have visitors and that is just heart wrenching," she said.
Volunteers also gave plants to hospital staff, teachers and even people waiting at a Chick-fil-A drive-thru.
They were able to deliver a few thousand on their own, but that barely made a dent in the supply.
Smith's husband works at UPS, so he asked his supervisor if he could drop off plants along with their deliveries. He also took a carload of flowers for his coworkers.
"Once his boss saw the flowers being passed out to employees and just the joy that it brought to just his own employees. He's like, 'OK, I'm, I'm going to make the call (to his regional managers and HR),'" she said. "UPS quickly hopped on board and it's been so amazing in helping us deliver flowers far beyond what we can do on our own."
She said as of Monday UPS has delivered most of the estimated 30,000 flowers that have been delivered.
Jennifer Lindell was working in her St. George yard last week when a UPS driver gave her a pot of purple lilies.
She said she's been feeling isolated and misses family and friends, so the delivery made her feel comforted and "connected with humanity."
"The nursery is really struggling but despite that they packaged up the flowers to give away because they were just going to die. UPS volunteered to help deliver them and spread love and happiness. The line of heartbreak and love that led up to my UPS man pulling over just for me is humbling," she said.
The flowers are packaged with a note encouraging the community to "grow together."
Smith said the company hasn't had to let go any workers and that the family is looking for grants and other resources to help them get through the crisis. She said they're also reviewing their upcoming Mother's Day orders with their clients.
The Society of American Florists is urging the US Department of Agriculture to provide aid to the floraculture industry, which it says has lost about a half-billion dollars between February and May.
Dutch flower auction firm Royal FloraHolland says that demand for flowers and plants has dropped by 80% in the European Union.
Smith said that even though the entire industry is struggling, she's hearing from other nurseries that are giving away their plants.
Boston companies gave more than 1,000 flowers to healthcare workers last week and planted a heart-shaped bed outside of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The flowers were going to be used for the Boston Marathon and Easter festivities, CNN affiliate WHDH reported.
"Kindness is contagious," Smith said. "It's been amazing to see just how kindness spreads and how we can clearly grow together as friends and family and a community just through these simple, simple deliveries that would otherwise have been tossed."