Where have all the flowers gone (5/14/09)

Donations wilt for Williston In Bloom

May 14, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

An organization that has splashed the town with floral color for the past six years is withering for lack of donations.


    Courtesy photo by Sue Stamme
Williston In Bloom, which plants flowers around the town at spots like the welcome sign above, is hurting for money.


    Courtesy photo by Sue Stamme
Williston In Bloom efforts have beautified different spots in town, including the gazebo in Williston Village.

Williston In Bloom has less than $100, said Al Liguori, a member of the committee that oversees the organization. Thousands of dollars are needed to buy plants and materials.

“We are absolutely in jeopardy of folding for lack of funds,” he said.

The annual planting effort usually relies on corporate sponsors, but business contributions have not been forthcoming this year.

Joan Fox-Cota, co-chairwoman of the Williston In Bloom Committee, said without an infusion of cash the organization won’t be able to hang flower baskets that lined U.S. 2 and Marshall Avenue last year, nor will it be able to plant annuals in beds around town.

The organization sends out fundraising appeals each year. This year’s mailing to dozens of businesses produced no responses. In fact, Williston In Bloom has yet to receive a single contribution in 2009.

Fox-Cota said she is unsure if the sour economy caused the dearth of donations. All she knows is businesses that in the past generously supported the organization have not contributed this year.

“I realize this is a sign of the times,” she said. “Obviously, one of the first things that gets cut is donations. It’s hard, but it’s a fact of life.”

Williston In Bloom’s efforts in years past could be seen in the colorful flowerbeds and hanging baskets lining the town’s thoroughfares.

Williston In Bloom was formed in 2002 and began planting flowers the following year. Modeled on similar organizations in the United States and Canada, it initially helped oversee the town’s annual entry into the national In Bloom beautification contest.

In recent years, the local organization devoted its time to annual plantings and a backyard garden contest. Just as importantly, Fox-Cota said, Williston In Bloom oversees outreach programs, offering advice to homeowner associations and coordinating plantings by the town and businesses.

The effort relies largely on volunteer labor with an assist from town employees. Contributions are used to buy plants and materials, which local businesses have furnished at a discount.

Still, the flowers are expensive. The king-size hanging baskets used by Williston In Bloom, for example, cost $225 to $250 apiece.

The town takes responsibility for some flower beds, including those at Taft Corners, Industrial Avenue and near the “Welcome to Williston” signs, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden.

In addition, J.L. Davis Inc., the owner of Taft Corners Park, home of Wal-Mart and Home Depot, has paid for flowers planted in the median of Marshall Avenue, Fox-Cota said.

Boyden said though he considers Williston In Bloom’s efforts key to the town’s aesthetic appeal, there is no municipal money to prop up the organization.

“The town, as you know, has a lean and mean budget,” he said. “Also, I don’t see that changing next year.”

The town won’t be entirely bereft of flowers should Williston In Bloom fail to garner donations. Some previously planted perennials have bloomed, and tulip bulbs have sprouted in Williston Village.

But contributions are needed so Williston In Bloom can purchase annuals and flower baskets. Donations from the general public, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated, Fox-Cota said.

“We’re not looking for $100 donations from anybody,” she said. “We’re not even looking for $20. Our idea is people can give $1 or $2 or whatever they can afford.”

Are flowers a luxury when people are losing their jobs and businesses are struggling to survive? Fox-Cota said the answer to that question lies in the response to Williston In Bloom’s fundraising plea.

“It all comes down to how much the community values this and how you want the town to look,” she said.

How to help

Williston In Bloom is seeking contributions from residents and business. The town is handling donations.

Send checks to: Williston In Bloom, c/o Neil Boyden, Town of Williston, 7900 Williston Road, Williston, Vt. 05495. Make checks out to Williston In Bloom.

For more information about Williston In Bloom, contact Al Liguori at 658-0607 or alcopyman@yahoo.com.