As the director of a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, Naomi Taffet sees a lot of women in tears. But once a year, for Mother’s Day, she has a chance to witness what she calls “happy tears.”
That takes place when Taffet, executive director of CHANA: Counseling, Helpline& Aid Network for Abused Women, delivers a large bouquet of Mother’s Day flowers, courtesy of Jewish Women International (JWI), to the CHANA safe house.
Through its Mother’s Day Flower Project, which for 15 years has been sending bouquets to shelters for battered women, JWI aims not just to brighten the day for these women, but also to increase awareness about domestic abuse and raise money for its yearlong activities, which include setting up and supporting children’s libraries in battered women’s and homeless shelters, advocacy efforts and educational programs.
More than one in three women and more than one in four men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking
by an intimate partner, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
“For us, every woman who buys a card and every man who buys a card and every woman who receives a card is one more person we can bring into consciousness” about domestic violence, Lori Weinstein, JWI’s executive director, said. “That is an added benefit. We’ve raised the numbers of people who are engaging.”
The flower project is a simple one. For a $25 contribution, a donor designates a mother to receive a specially designed card. While this year’s card was created in-house, Israeli and American Jewish female artists donated their artworks for previous years’ cards, according to Weinstein.
Donors also have the opportunity to submit a message to be sent to the shelters. These are included on an
inspirational poster sent along with the flowers. Last year’s poster, for example, featured a Yiddish poem, “Mother,” in translation, in addition to such messages as “Don’t give up!”
For the past five years, OPI Products has been contributing makeup and toiletries to be delivered along with the flowers, which go to 200 shelters nationwide, the majority of them not Jewish. In addition, other groups — synagogues, Hillel chapters, Sigma Delta Tau sorority and Moishe Houses — have signed on as partners for the project and publicize the effort.
“I have always believed that through color I can make a difference in the lives of women,” Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI’s executive vice president and a former JWI honoree, said. “Tzedakah is part of my life and who I am. Making mothers feel good on Mother’s Day is such a privilege.”
“Every year we get scores of letter from shelter directors, residents of shelters just thanking us for thinking of women who are struggling to be the best mothers they can on a holiday that is very difficult for them,” Weinstein said.
Taffet recalls one woman telling her she never had received flowers, and the floral arrangement made her feel like a “queen for the day.”
“The mothers are always so touched by the thought that it’s one of those good deeds, one of those mitzvoth, that one person is giving another person a gift, but it’s anonymous,” said Taffet, whose shelter accommodates just one woman (and sometimes her children) at a time.
At Womanspace in Lawrenceville, N.J., which accommodates up to eight women and 17 children, the flowers are displayed in a dining area. “To know that someone is thinking about them is important,” said Reyna Carothers, director of emergency services at Womanspace, which also holds a Mother’s Day tea party.
“It’s very healing,” Lori Butterfield, director of development for the Cleveland Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center, said about the JWI project.
“I think one of the most important things for a woman is that it validates that someone appreciates she is a parent,” Butterfield said. “When a woman is in an abusive situation, sometime her skill as a mother is questioned by the batterer. For them to receive such a wonderful gift, especially those women living in a shelter and taking steps to take care of their children, it really validates that they’re doing the right thing.”
Giving a single bouquet of flowers, along with some toiletries and makeup, doesn’t seem as though it can make much of a difference to women struggling to reinvent their lives, she said.
“But to women who had to leave their homes and don’t know their future and just know they needed safety for themselves and their children, it means a great deal,” Butterfield said.
Flower Project cards can still be ordered at jwi.org/fp or by calling 800-343-2823. JWI is encouraging supporters to help promote the project by using the Twitter hashtag #MDFP and through a Facebook photo campaign in which supporters are asked to post photos of flowers in their own neighborhoods, towns or cities to share with people everywhere.
Seven Maryland Shelters, Programs To Benefit This Mother’s Day
• The Family Crisis Center in Dundalk
• Greentree Shelter in Bethesda
• Heartly House in Frederick
• The House of Ruth Maryland in Baltimore
• CHANA: Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women in Baltimore
• The Betty Ann Krahnke Center in Rockville
• YWCA Annapolis and Anne Arundel County in Arnold
Debra Rubin writes for JNS.org.