Doug Donaldson had a brief health scare several years ago. It proved to be a false alarm, but it made him think. "I suddenly realized I hadn't done anything for anybody," he says.
Donaldson quickly came up with a remedy. Enlisting the help of his young daughter Olivia, he founded the Flower Power program, modeling it after America's Second Harvest, a national organization that brings surplus food from restaurants and grocery suppliers to food pantries.
"I asked a couple of florists how much stock they throw away and discovered it's more than 15 percent," Donaldson says. Through a local distributor he found a company that picks and packs flowers for Internet florists and supermarket outlets, then persuaded its owners to donate the blooms that wouldn't survive the trip to distant markets.
Since creating Flower Power in 2001, Donaldson and his team - Olivia, who is now 11, and her brother, Jack, who's 8 - have delivered more than 4,000 vases to St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton, N.J. Donaldson buys vases by the case and delivers them to his supplier, where volunteers stuff them for him to pick up every second Friday. The following morning he and his children distribute forty-eight bouquets to selected areas of the hospital, including its hospice floor and a unit that provides short-term residential care for children of families in crisis.
Because the hospitals closest to his Plainsboro, New Jersey, home are in affluent Princeton, Donaldson chose to work with the Trenton facility. He depends on nursing staff to identify the patients most in need of cheer.
"There are not many rooms there that have flowers," he says. "We don't personally go to each patient - that would take us twenty hours. But we get great feedback, especially in hospice. The gesture is so important."
The experience has been invaluable for his children. "The cynic in me says kids today are so focused on themselves, so I try to get them to step out of themselves," he says. "In that tiny moment of pure appreciation, I tell them, ‘See how easy it is to just be nice?' "
A theater concentrator at Brown, Donaldson works in television development for Team Creations, a production company in Washington, D.C. He's currently seeking funding for Louder Than Words, a program targeted for public TV that will portray the personal activism of a group of 18 to 30-year-olds. It's a project that readily ties in to his personal philosophy of doing "more than writing a big check."
"It's the act of doing that is most rewarding," he says.