As I stood at the top of the hill watching over 500 people release butterflies at the Quincy “Butterfly Moments” this summer, it was overwhelming to say the least. What started out as a small idea had turned into something truly larger than life. To look around me and to see the tears in people eyes, the joy in children’s faces and butterflies taking flight – it is an experience like no other. Starting this process I didn’t realize how many lives would be touched by this event.
Walking through the crowd I picked up bits and pieces of conversations. Everyone attending had a reason to be there that was unique to them, but they all had one thing in common, honoring those that were important to them.
About a year ago, Blessing Hospice decided to come up with a community fundraising event that was unique and fit in well with the purpose of hospice. As most ideas start, it was just a side note in a conversation with co-workers over lunch.
One of the main goals of hospice is to increase the quality of remaining life; to focus on life, not death. Often times the butterfly is considered the universal symbol of hospice, representing the transition at the end of life. For these reasons, it seemed like the perfect fit for the community to release a butterfly in memory of someone they have loved and lost.
In January of this year we started contacting potential sponsors for the events, designed our promotional materials, contacted the media, etc. We decided to have an event at each of our office locations, so we planned events for Carthage, Pittsfield, Carrollton and Quincy. In March we started promoting the events in each area, working with local media and covering the towns with flyers.
By the time May rolled around I was still pretty nervous about how the events would go. Our first event was slated for Carthage in June and we had not received any butterfly reservations at that point. About three weeks before the event the orders started rolling in and we had 100 orders. This far surpassed our goals for a first year event. This is when I started to realize that this event was resonating with people and they were acting on the idea.
The weekend of the first event was a pretty nervous one for me. I had never ordered butterflies before and had no idea what to really expect, even though I had many reassuring calls from our vendor. We order the butterflies from a butterfly farm in Orlando, Florida. The butterflies are fed and placed in individual envelopes then placed in a cooler. Once in the cool dark environment the butterflies basically go dormant.
The butterflies are then shipped overnight express and arrive at my home on Saturday morning, the day before the event. Once I receive the package I open the cooler, quickly and carefully remove all of the butterfly envelopes and swap out the ice pack on the bottom with new ice packs. I place all of the envelopes back in the box, close the cooler and put them in a cool dark room until the day of the release.
This process became very easy for me by the fourth event, but the first time it went more like this: me calling the vendor asking if I really had to take all of the envelopes out of the cooler, laying out all the envelopes on the kitchen table while yelling at my two and five year old, “Stay away from the butterflies! Don’t touch anything!” as I saw little flutters of some of the butterflies waking up.
Once I had the butterflies back in the cooler I moved them into our downstairs bathroom that had no window, placed them directly under the air vent then proceeded to duct tape the door closed to keep my little “helpers” safely away. All while my 15 year old daughter stood quietly watching with a raised eye brow and said, “Think you have enough tape on that door?” before walking away.
Suffice it to say, every single butterfly was completely fine for our first event in Carthage. What was a nerve racking weekend for me turned into a beautiful event for the community of Carthage. This first event had a little rain interrupt things temporarily, but it still went very well. So I thought, okay we handled the worst case scenario weather wise so we can handle pretty much anything else this summer at upcoming events. The rain may have dampened the ground, but not the spirit of the event.
Pittsfield and Carrollton events followed suit, each having about 100 butterfly orders at their events. The Pittsfield event went very well with no rain at the event, holding off until after it was all said and done. Carrollton had beautiful weather, the added bonus of harpists playing during the event and went flawlessly.
While these two events are going on the Quincy orders are not just rolling in, but piling in the door. A week before the Quincy event we are up to almost 500 butterfly orders. And the last minute phone orders keep coming until a few days before the event.
At this point the only worry that I have is handling the crowd. With each event the process was easier and my nerves from the first event had pretty much subsided. We had handled weather issues, so I had a plan in place for that, so I felt like it was smooth sailing at this point.
The day before the Quincy butterfly release I expected the butterflies to be delivered at 10:30am. Reason being, the previous three deliveries had all been 10:30am on the dot. At 10:45am I felt a twinge of worry. By 11am I was on my iPad looking up the tracking information. The estimated delivery time read: “N/A”. This is when I really felt like something was very wrong.
Family helped me make some phone calls and my Mom finally reached someone – there were mechanical issues with the plane and it did not arrive in time to make the delivery. I could not believe it. In that moment I thought about all of the conversations with community members about their lost loved ones that I had, and all the people who were gathering their families together to celebrate the life of someone special to them. I thought about how that one plane delay was going to affect over 500 people.
At that point I thought we were going to have to cancel the event and move it to a different date. Then I received word from our butterfly vendor that he had reached the Fed Ex manager in Memphis where the plane had landed. He said there was a chance that he could still get the packages to us. He asked me to give him an hour to work on it. I was not very hopeful, but I agreed.
One hour turned into three hours of phone conversations and then we received word that the manager sent a crew to search the plane for the boxes. After sorting through hundreds of boxes and crates they found them.
The manager called their courier service to drive the butterflies from Memphis directly to my house. At 12am a nice semi-retired man with a friendly southern accent handed me the butterflies before heading back to Memphis. He told me how he is called to do very important and special deliveries and he said this is probably one of the most interesting deliveries he has ever made.
As we stood in my driveway at midnight I told him how each one of these butterflies represents someone special who has passed away and how many lives he has impacted by making sure that the butterflies completed their journey to Quincy, how one man from Memphis impacted over 500 lives. To me, this is truly the butterfly effect.