By Lila Cohen
For the Vashon Riptide
Note: This article continues The Beachcomber’s partnership with the Vashon Riptide, the stellar student newspaper at Vashon High School. To read more Riptide stories, visit riptide.vashonsd.org.
While many people have struggled in the search for silver linings during the COVID-19 pandemic, others have decided to get their hands dirty and create them.
Islander Doug Hershey is one of the latter. Hershey has been successful in quite literally growing something beautiful out of the mud pit that was this past year.
As of last summer, Hershey has delivered a bouquet of flowers to five island residents every Saturday and then proudly checked their names off his list. Flower recipients have included everyone from old friends and neighbors to people that Hershey has never even met. These strangers range from essential workers to islanders who continuously show up in profound ways for the community, or have felt especially isolated because of the pandemic, or have recently experienced loss.
Sometimes people will nominate their loved ones who they know could use some flowers and a friendly face by reaching out to Hershey’s sister, Blythe Deines.
“On Saturday he drives around with a caregiver and he delivers five flowers… It’s just a lovely experience because Doug gets to do a COVID-friendly job. And those five people are blessed by a random person. I mean they don’t even know who nominated them for the flowers… It’s just completely out of the blue. A lovely man, full of joy, who’s excited to meet them knocks on their door and brings them flowers; it’s just a beautiful thing,” Deines said.
Deines helps support and care for her brother, who was born with a condition called Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome (RSTS). RSTS is very rare; it is estimated that it only occurs in approximately one out of every 100,000-125,000 newborns. While the symptoms of RSTS are different from person to person, physical manifestations and moderate to severe intellectual disability are fairly common among those with this condition.
“I often will say he’s the most positive, cheerful 53-year-old,” Deines said.
Prior to COVID-19, Hershey worked at both Panera Bread and Granny’s Attic. But when the pandemic hit last spring, Hershey was affected in the same ways as most were. Canceled activities meant an abundance of free time and a lack of social connection. Doug’s Flower Delivery was the creative solution to both of these problems. Delivering flowers was a way for Hershey to feel connected and to help others feel the same way.
Doug’s Flower Delivery is possible due to a group of people who have joined forces to spread kindness. Some of these people are family. Hershey’s mother is the one who takes the flowers and turns them into stunning arrangements, and his sister helps logistically, including organizing flower pick up, drop off, and everything in between.
Bettie Edwards, Deines’s former high school boss and old family friend, regularly receives flowers and donates vases. The flowers that fill those vases are often blooms donated by Erin Simmens of Handpicked Homestead and Halee Dams of Marmol Farm. When they do not have flowers in season, flowers are purchased from Herban Bloom.
Both growers expressed gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to such a positive movement and felt inspired by Hershey and his family.
“We’re all meant to share beauty… [and I felt] very honored to know that flowers I grew were being arranged by Doug [and his family], and he put his heart into that. And then other hearts were touched by receiving that,” Simmens said.
Dams echoed this same sentiment.
“I was very touched to see Doug spending his time during COVID finding ways to take care of others and reaching out to isolated folks in our community. My first season growing flowers looked very different than I thought it would, and when I was able to provide flowers for Doug, it made all the effort that I poured into my flower farm feel worthwhile. Being able to support his efforts was definitely a highlight of my growing season,” Dams said. “I know Doug touched the lives of isolated folks and essential workers during a really difficult time. He inspired me with his generosity and kindness, and I know he inspired many other islanders too.”
Dams and Simmens plan on supporting Hershey with freshly-cut, locally grown flowers as long as this journey continues. And Hershey will have a plot of land at Marmol Farm for future growing of his own.
Over the course of this flower-lined journey, it is the little moments that have touched the hearts of those involved.
“One time we went [to deliver flowers] and the flower recipient was standing there with her husband and her daughter, and she wanted to give back to him. And so she sang him a song. It wasn’t a song that I recognized, it was probably a little bit before my time, but Doug recognized it and started dancing along to the song she was singing… It was one of those moments that was just so precious… you want to bottle that up. In these times when all we’re hearing is yucky stuff in the news… there’s also somebody who receives flowers and repays that gift of kindness with bringing the gift of music to them. [It’s] just really a spot of sunshine right now that we kind of all need,” Deines said.
Doug’s Flower Delivery has become a positive movement that spreads joy and breeds happiness. Positive energy promotes positive energy.
“I’m a believer in circles… Energy is a full circle… I think it makes people realize that we can help [Hershey], and he can help us because I can help him by making him feel good. And he makes me feel good and all the people that are around him feel good… To me, a circle is also like a heart, and I’m a collector of hearts.” Edwards said, “And it’s like you kind of punch the circle down in the middle and pull it out at the end and you’ve created a heart. And that’s what Doug has done for our circle. He’s taken the circle, punched it down in the middle to make the indent and pulled it down longer to create the point.”
— Lila Cohen is the social media editor for the Vashon Riptide.