Taking time out of your day to say “thank you” or “I appreciate you” to someone who needs to hear it is a powerful thing. Thinking about others makes us feel good—plain and simple; otherwise we wouldn’t give gifts during the holidays. Altruistic thinking brings many benefits, and in a time when our society is facing some of its greatest hurtles yet, I can’t think of a time where we need to practice it more. If there was anything positive to come out of this pandemic it was the many ways we as a society found to thank those who need to hear it most, especially all of our essential workers. Meal trains, GoFund Me’s, Gratitude Parades—you name it, have brought a small twinkle of cheer in what can be grueling hours and the loneliness one feels when being away from their family all the time.
The City of Oakland Park has found another way to engage our community, promote and foster native landscaping as well as thank our essential workers. It’s called the Parade of Orchids. And I spoke with Julie Leonard, our Assistant Director for Public Works, to learn more.
Julie explains, “We just had the Stunson Nature Trail redeveloped and opened in 2018. It was named and dedicated to John Stunson, who was a former city manager. Our current city manager, David Herbert, had wanted native Florida orchids incorporated in the trail. Me, being the avid orchid enthusiast, volunteered to see what we could do. There is a program through the Fairchild Botanical Tropical Gardens where they are trying to incorporate a million orchids in urban environments. These are orchids that are Florida natives and because of that you plant them and they need no care at all. Once they’re established, that’s it! Native orchids aren’t easy to come by at a cost that somebody could afford if you’re gonna plant thousands of them. I reached out to Dr. Jason Downing, he is the orchid biologist at Fairchild, and they’re working on propagating seeds from native Florida orchids whit south Florida DNA in them. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s really interesting.”
She explained that Dr. Downing was very excited to have the native orchids planted in Broward county since most of the work being done for this project is down in Miami-Dade. Through working with the Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society, yet another wonderful partner in this project, our City was able to secure some of these baby orchids. Then the pandemic hit.
“See, now we’re in a pandemic. So we have cities and lots of businesses cutting back on expenses. This makes buying orchids for a native trail difficult when we’re all cutting back on our budgets. That’s when our City Manager came up with the great idea of having the Parade of Orchids. It’s a win-win that also gives someone like you or me the opportunity to donate an orchid in the name of someone, like an essential worker. You know, we have so many essential workers out there in our city. We’re out there still doing business; sanitation trucks are still collecting garbage and the medical field is still reporting to work everyday. With all these essential employees out there we wanted someone to have the opportunity to honor them.”
The donations for the Parade of Orchids start for as little as $5 and you can donate in honor of an essential worker, in memory of someone or even to celebrate a Father’s or Mother’s Day. They have seen some donations reach in the hundreds of dollars range, offering a beautiful bouquet to fix to a tree in the trail in somebody’s name. They have partnered with the Urban Farming Institute’s donation platform to handle all of the donations.
“This is the money we are using now to purchase the orchids,” Julie explains. “It’s not city budgeted money, it’s donated money. Our goal was originally $10,000 and we wanted to collect enough. The plants are very small. They’re seedlings. Though some of them are blooming now, it will take over a year for them to bloom. We want to plant a lot of them. Just today we planted over 400 orchids. The volunteers came out at 7 a.m. and we planted 400 orchids and left two hours later. That’s also how we’re getting the work done—through our volunteers because we can’t really afford to have a professional contractor come out an install them. Again, it’s a win-win because we get the orchids from Fairchild and the volunteers come out install the orchids at no cost to the city. I meet with the volunteers and they’re all super enthusiastic about this program. Some of them don’t even live in Oakland Park but are part of an orchid society. Like Fort Lauderdale Orchid Society, we consider them the conduit of getting the orchids into Broward county. They’ll get whatever alottment Fairchild gives and they divvy them up, because let me tell ya, they are a hot item and in great demand.”
This year there will a small planting and they hope to continue with more through the generous donations of the GoFund Me. As I stated previously, there has never been a better time to give back to those who have been there for us through this entire ordeal. Why not honor our loved ones while honoring our ecosystem as well. We can never stop bringing south Florida back to its native state and we can never stop honoring those who continue to be there when we need them the most.
For more information, please check out the city’s website. To make donations, please use the link: https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/oporchids
Steven Mayer is a local Floridian who grew up in the South Corals area of Oakland Park most of his life. He attended Rickards Middle, Northeast High and earned his B.A. in English from FAU. He’s done some writing and editorial work for a south Florida lifestyle magazine and is proud to have been a partner with Starbucks for a total of 18 years.
After testing out a couple U.S. cities in his twenties, Steven realized that nothing beats home, and eventually settled back down in the Downtown Oakland Park area with his partner Douglas (another Oakland Park native), their three Pekinese dogs and two beautiful cats.
Steven enjoys anything Disney, vegan cooking, going for runs, attending local festivals, traveling, and game nights with friends and family.