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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Floral Endowment turned its annual fundraising dinner, typically held at the start of the Society of American Florists’ annual convention, into a virtual “mask-erade,” in which supporters enjoyed a meal from the safety of their own homes (or out in small groups) and shared photos of their mini celebrations while wearing AFE-branded masks.

“We’ve been serving the floral community for 59 years, with 44 years of our annual fundraising dinner, and we won’t let the coronavirus break our streak,” said AFE Executive Director Debi Chedester, AAF. “The Endowment’s work is ongoing and vital to the continued growth and development of the floral industry as we adapt to this new normal.”

The fundraiser helps AFE fund more than $800,000 in research initiatives, educational grants, scholarships and internships.

Although many supporters missed the camaraderie of socializing in person with industry friends, this year’s event included some fun new components, such as a “best mask” contest, judged largely by creativity and uniqueness, which comes with the hefty prize of free roses for a year from Rio Roses. Entries will be accepted through Friday, September 11. To enter, submit your mask-erade photo with the hashtag #GivingtoGrow and tag AFE on Instagram (@american_floral_endowment), Facebook (@americanfloralendowment) or Twitter (@FloralEndowment).

The virtual nature of the event inspired Lori Wheat, AAF, of Lafayette Florist, Gift Shop & Garden Center in Lafayette, Colorado, to talk in-depth with her entire team about the significance of AFE.

“My parents were big supporters of AFE, and they introduced us to how vital it is to have this organization supporting our industry,” she said. She told her employees about AFE’s range of research — from production efficiency to pest management practices to postharvest quality to consumer preferences — to the efforts the organization makes to bring young people into the floriculture field. “My staff saw the big picture,” she said. “When they heard we could show our support by posting photos with our masks, they wanted to participate.” Designer Sandi Sniff, AIFD, embellished hers with phalaenopsis orchids and mink protea bracts, while the rest stuck with the original design and posed with pets and loved ones (Lafayette’s mask-erade photos can be seen in the collage above).

In Jacksonville, Florida, Renato Sogueco, AAF, PFCI, vice president of digital strategy and education of BloomNet, also found new opportunities in the virtual pivot.

“It’s a long tradition for BloomNet to sponsor a table or two and invite florists to sit with us during the AFE dinner,” he explained. “So naturally we wanted to include our members in this year’s fundraiser.” Absent physical tables to fill, BloomNet was able to expand its pool of invitees, including several florists who typically don’t attend SAF’s annual convention. “We bought them a mask and their choice of lunch or dinner, and we all sat down ‘together’ for a series of virtual meetings,” he said. “We talked about the usual stuff and then moved onto AFE — why we support them and why they should too. It’s been a great opportunity to educate people unfamiliar with the organization and evangelize what it’s all about.”

In addition to sharing #GivingtoGrow photos, several BloomNet employees will create short videos highlighting various benefits that AFE provides. “We’re having fun with this, while we leverage the opportunity to broadcast the message farther than we typically could at the dinner,” he said, adding that the videos will be released periodically to get maximum exposure.

See photos from the fundraiser.

By Katie Vincent, Senior Writer and Editor for the Society of American Florists

This article was originally published in the Society of American Florists.

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