Manitoba

Plant giveaway program aims to improve mental health during pandemic

After finding solace in taking care of their plants in the first months of the pandemic, a pair of Winnipeg women have been collecting and giving away plants for free to help others find the same comfort. 

WpgFreePlants created to make plants more financially accessible

Jannica Reyes and Riel Lynch launched WpgFreePlants this fall to help people access plants to help them cope during the pandemic. (Instagram/WpgFreePlants)

This story is part of a series by CBC Manitoba about acts of kindness in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was made possible in part thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC's survey about acts of kindness they have initiated or experienced. 

After finding solace in taking care of their plants in the first months of the pandemic, a pair of Winnipeg women have been collecting and giving away plants for free to help others find the same comfort. 

Jannica Reyes and Riel Lynch are the women behind the Instagram account WpgFreePlants. 

"This year, with the pandemic, it has been especially difficult for ourselves and we noticed that members in our community were really struggling with their mental health," Lynch said. 

"So WpgFreePlants was kind of born out of the idea that we wanted to provide more access for people in our community to plants for their mental health."

Jannica Reyes (left) and Riel Lynch are the women behind WpgFreePlants. (Walther Bernal/CBC News )

For Lynch, the beginning of the year was time of personal upheaval. She had been attending law school in the United States prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but left and moved back to Winnipeg. Then, the pandemic happened. 

"I was extremely anxious. I was depressed. I didn't want to talk to friends, family, really anybody. And so the plants were really like my therapy and comfort," she said. 

The pair started the account in September and held their first giveaway on Oct. 10, which also happens to be World Mental Health Day. 

That giveaway saw more than 100 people take home plants for free, all of which had been donated by people in the community. Lynch and Reyes used their own money to rent a space for the giveaway, and also collected donations which were given to the Canadian Mental Health Association and Sunshine House.

Lynch and Reyes said taking care of their plants helped them get through 2020 by giving them something to take care of and focus on outside of the pandemic. 

"Caring for a plant and finding small successes like new leaves and new growth on a plant, or purchasing a new one and getting it comfortable and seeing it flourish, that really helps for my mental health because I'm doing something that's getting me outside of my head," she said. 

"I'm not thinking about the turmoil in the world."

But plants can be expensive, and not everyone can afford them, Lynch said. So the account was created as a way to help make them accessible for everyone. 

After the success of their first giveaway, WpgFreePlants is partnering with therapist Lana Hastings to create an exchange program where clients can take home plants in Hastings office.

"So that Lana can have those plants as a decoration but can also say, 'Hey you can take these plants home and you can find joy or small success in greening up their own home,'" Lynch said. 

The pair is also hosting a "Secret Planta" exchange, which has about 40 people signed up. 

"I think many of these people, they either live alone or they don't have many contacts, so getting a plant gift from a complete stranger is quite lovely I think," Lynch said.

With files from Lindsay Mackenzie

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