Giving Flowers to Barbara at the Habitat Williamsburg ReStore
She’s known as Barbara the Flower Lady at the Habitat Williamsburg ReStore.
If you’ve purchased a unique artificial floral arrangement there, that’s Barbara’s creative work. Initially, the retiree volunteered at the ReStore as part of a church outreach project. The volunteer coordinator that day asked if anyone was capable of putting together floral arrangements.
Barbara raised her hand. “I can do that,” she said.
She started at a countertop making a handful of arrangements. That was eight years ago, and today Barbara is a regular volunteer on Tuesday and Thursday mornings who enjoys applying her floral design skills to create arrangements of all sizes, colors and shapes. She matches the artificial flowers with donated containers that range from big and small vases to tea kettles to baskets to wooden condiment boxes.
Barbara got her start in flowers after strolling the mall in the 1970s and seeing a Help Wanted sign in the window of a floral shop. The evening and weekend hours suited the mother of three and former schoolteacher, so she applied to bring in some extra income.
“I never dreamed they’d actually hire me,” she said. “The next day I made it clear I didn’t know anything about arranging flowers.”
But Barbara had the desire to learn and mastered the technique that is so appreciated at the ReStore. “The biggest thing I had to learn was how to face the flowers,” she says. “The flowers should be turned to present their best face to the viewer. That way they will look good from any angle.
“Most of the time, when you see an improperly designed bouquet, it’s because they’ve been jammed in a container and haven’t been properly faced.”
“Be creative in mixing colors and sizes,” she suggests. “Your statement blooms are the largest flowers in a bouquet while medium-sized flowers fill in the gaps. Don’t overlook the greenery.”
“The greenery in a bouquet is what negative space is to a painting,” Barbara says.
During her floral career, Barbara designed flowers for most any occasion — weddings, funerals, showers, receptions, holiday gatherings and proms, among them. Gladiolas are often the hardest to work with due to their long spears. Daisies and mums are more cooperative. She has an affinity for spring flowers, such as daffodils, tulips and calla lilies.
At the ReStore, Barbara only arranges artificial flowers, far easier than fresh, she says, adding, “You can bend the stems and manipulate them.” They don’t, however, stand out in glass vases, so finding the right container has become a fun part of her process.
Once Barbara began regularly designing arrangements, donations of artificial flowers to the ReStore increased. Now she has plenty to sort through in her work to create something special.
“More people are aware that artificial flowers are something they can donate,” Barbara said.
Volunteering at the ReStore has its own rewards. All of the profits from the Williamsburg ReStore, one of three in the region operated by Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg, stay local and go toward building Habitat homes that are sold to families through the nonprofit’s first-time Homebuyer Program.
“I feel like at this age and stage in my life, this is my opportunity to give back to the community,” Barbara said. “I’m pleased to be able to take a professionally trained skill and donate it to make something that will make some money to help somebody.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Barbara was especially cautious due to an underlying health condition. Twice a week before the ReStore opened to the public, she would stop in to gather what she needed and return after hours with new arrangements. With restrictions loosening, she is happy to be back in the store seeing familiar faces. Longtime customers stop to visit when they shop.
Barbara encourages other retirees to consider donating their time to the ReStore, which also has locations in Newport News and Yorktown. She notes, “Being with other people and building relationships with other volunteers and meeting and interacting with customers is all very rewarding.”
Whether you have a special skill or simply want to donate your time, the HabitatPGW ReStores invite you to volunteer. For information about volunteering, go here.