The minivans were lined up and ready to roll Thursday morning at the back door to Higdon Florist and Gifts, 201 E. 32nd St.
“Let’s put these here and those over there,” said Karen Eubanks, as she loaded another arrangement of flowers into one of the vehicles. “Watch your step. There’s some ice here.”
Covered in plastic to shield them from the freezing cold, the flowers were placed in boxes and foam holders that are designed to hold them in place for a trip across town. The goal was to not lose any petals or spill any water.
Eubanks then was handed a clipboard with a map and instructions on where to deliver each arrangement.
After looking over a long list of specific directions, she said, “GPS has been wonderful.”
Eubanks and her sisters in the Beta Sigma Phi social sorority have figured out a way to raise money for their service projects in Joplin and help Higdon deliver hundreds of bouquets in connection with Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the two busiest days of the year for flower deliveries.
“They have been doing this for 13 years,” said Marcia Baker, who operates the floral shop along with her husband, David. “We pay the gas, and they are paid per delivery. There is no way we could deliver all of these flowers without them.
“They work so hard, and they give it away.”
The group earns $2.50 for each delivery. If it does well or has to travel a long distance, it can earn a bonus. One year, the group earned a $150 bonus.
Eubanks said: “All of the Beta Sigma Phi chapters in Joplin — there are five or six of them — do money-making projects. I read somewhere that floral shops needed help with deliveries on their busiest days of the year. So I called around, and Higdon’s said they could use the help.
“The Bakers had just bought the store. That was on Mother’s Day in 2001, and we have been helping ever since. We needed to find something to do like this. We are not what you would call crafty women.”
The women in the Laureate Epsilon Omicron chapter have raised thousands of dollars to benefit local charitable organizations. Among the recipients have been Crosslines Churches of the Joplin Area, the American Cancer Society, Lafayette House, the Children’s Hospital in Kansas City and the Ronald McDonald House of the Four States.
“This year, we did a Christmas party for one of the houses at Turnaround Ranch,” Eubanks said. “I think we’ve raised between $15,000 to $20,000. We earned that one delivery at a time.”
When the group first started, workers at Higdon loaded the vans.
“We do it ourselves now,” Eubanks said. “We do it better than the guys did.”
Shelly Goerz, a cousin of the Bakers who helps when crunch time arrives around Valentine’s Day, said: “And the women do the driving because they know how to follow directions. We have a great routine — just leave it to the women.”
But, their husbands have helped too.
Some of the arrangements include stuffed bears, boxes of candy and balloons.
Though it was cold Thursday morning, it was a perfect day to deliver flowers.
“At least there is no wind,” Goerz said. “The balloons can be so difficult when it’s windy. They have gone down in popularity, and we are so thankful.”
Most everyone who orders flowers for Valentine’s Day has them delivered at work either on Valentine’s Day, the day before or the day after. That creates an almost impossible challenge for florists. They must create the arrangement to the order’s specifications, keep the flowers cool until time for delivery and then deliver them.
“People will call us today and order flowers for a delivery on Valentine’s Day,” Marcia Baker said. “They think we just throw the flowers together. That’s not the way it works. This is an art, and that it is especially true for the people who work here. We want to please people, but we also believe in excellence.”
The safest bet for a delivery on Valentine’s Day is to get the order placed the week before.
For Eubanks and her sorority sisters, it’s the delivery that counts.
“We really enjoy doing this,” she said. “When we walk through the doors (at a customer’s location), people start smiling. They’re happy to see us. We also hear: ‘Oh darn. I thought those were coming to me.’”
HIGDON FLORIST delivered about 150 arrangements of varying sizes on Thursday. It will deliver 250 or so today.