Champaign Park District sells off annual flowers due to COVID-19

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A photo of flowers posted to Champaign Park District's event for the flower sale this year.

The Champaign Park District is well known for their spring and summer planting of beds of flowers across various parks in the Champaign County area.

But this year, the district was unable to plant flowers due to staff shortages caused by the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the flowers to be sold at flower sales instead.

“We didn’t have the capability to get the flowers in the ground at the time and didn’t want them to go to waste,” said Chelsea Norton, director of marketing for the district. 

The park district underwent a mandated hiring freeze for all open positions, including many part-time and seasonal positions, which are key to  the landscape and flower island programs. Dan Olson, director of operations for the park district, said the hiring freeze was a board or executive order mandate. 

Most of those part-time and seasonal positions are still not open. 

“We were under an executive order to stay at home when the plants were being delivered,” said Olson, when asked about the flower sales. 

The flowers were sold at two different sales, one on April 10 and one on June 6, and both of these sales were open to the public. The events were advertised on various forms of social media such as Facebook, as well as through email mailing lists. 

The flowers were sold at $13 a flat, which contained 18 individual 2.5 inch pots of various varieties of the annual flowers available. These flower mixes included a Spring Matrix Daffodil Pansy Mix, Speedy Sonnet Snapdragon Mix and a Snapshot Snapdragon Mix. 

Out of the 100 flats available, 96 were sold. 

“We decided to do it very spur of the moment,” said Norton.

The few positions that were unfrozen were only opened in late June, well after flowers could be planted. The park district had to make a decision.

“Without the ability to have staff in office due to shelter in place and run programming, there was almost no chance to receive revenue so we reduced spending to accommodate,” wrote Norton in an email. 

The stay-at-home executive order also prevented volunteers from helping out with the flower planting, and the district volunteer events were cancelled for the duration of the lockdown. 

The flower sales generated a revenue of about $4,000 in total. While the funds aided the district, it did not make up for how much money they spent to purchase the flowers originally. 

Despite receiving further shipments of flowers, the district only elected to have two flower sales. 

“As the season progressed we were able to plant more and more,” said Norton. 

Norton said that they were surprised at how fast the flats of flowers were sold. 

“We had never done anything like that before, we were really pleased,” said Norton. 

The flower island program has been at the park district since 1988. Since then, it has grown from six flower beds to over 230 beds throughout the community. The goal of the flower island program is to make Champaign a community of flowers and to provide splashes of color throughout the Champaign area. 

The Champaign Park District partners with local businesses in this beautification effort.

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