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Southold, Greenport students prepare bouquets for elderly residents

Southold and Greenport students are trying to bring a smile to elderly residents in the community — one flower at a time.

Elementary and high school students prepared and delivered fresh flower bouquets July 31 to six homebound residents as well as residents at Peconic Landing. The initiative was a collaborative effort with assistance from Greenport and Southold Superintendent David Gamberg, NJROTC instructor Maj. William Grigonis and Southold Town officials.

Mr. Gamberg, a self-described “avid gardener” who occasionally prepares arrangements at home before heading off to work, pitched the joint program, the Flower Project, to Greenport and Southold district officials last year.

“It occurred to me that, wouldn’t it be nice if I could work with our students … so we could procure many, many bunches of flowers to be given to the elderly, shut-ins or even people in hospice situations,” he wrote in an August 2018 email.

As classes began that fall, the superintendent started planting sunflowers, peonies and zinnias in the school gardens that would be in full bloom this summer season.

Southold and Greenport students from the Garden Club and Junior National Honor Society, and Greenport students from the service club Early Act, cut those flowers from the gardens last Wednesday. Greenport teacher Jeanne McInnis helped some elementary-level students write notes that accompanied each arrangement, according to a press release.

Honor Society students and NJROTC cadets then gathered at Southold High School for a crash course on how to make a color-coordinated bouquet, led by Mr. Gamberg. By 10:30 a.m., those students were on the road, delivering arrangements to Southold, Greenport and Orient.

Southold principal Terence Rusch, who was at the high school last Wednesday, said in an email that the program connects students with their community.

“We need to continually provide students with real, authentic learning,” he said. “This type of learning extends outside of the classroom and not only brought joy to those community members who need it, but also showed our students the importance of helping others.”

Major Grigonis, who recruited cadets to help with the program, said it ties in with the NJROTC goal of citizenship development.

“You could see that [the students] were doing something creative, learning a new skill that they would most likely not learn during the school year,” he said in an email. “What was truly amazing is that we were able to have the cadets work with younger students from the elementary school as well. It goes a long way in making the cadets feel more pride and ownership of their school.”

Town director of human services Karen McLaughlin and senior citizens program supervisor Jacqueline Martinez provided the districts with the names of residents who would enjoy receiving bouquets, Mr. Gamberg said.

He said he envisions the program growing: if the flowers are still viable by the end of August, he said, the Flower Project may host another delivery day in early September.

“Eventually, I would love to see this grow to scale, whereby there are regular, weekly deliveries throughout the summer,” he said.

Both districts have greenhouses that operate separate from the gardens and produce fresh fruits and vegetables year-round.

Roughly six years ago, Jamesport farmer Carl Gabrielsen of Gabrielsen Farms started donating underused greenhouses to local school districts including Mattituck and Southold. Parts of a greenhouse donated by Gabrielsen Farms and funds from a New York State Farm to School grant helped Greenport unveil their first-ever outdoor greenhouse in June to grow and harvest produce, officials said.

Photo caption: Susan Utz, a Peconic Landing resident who graduated from Greenport High School in 1960, receives a bouquet from Greenport seventh-grader Jenna Smith last Wednesday. (Credit: Olivia Daddona)

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