Nfld. & Labrador

Loved ones, lost to suicide, live on in Bay Bulls flower basket fundraiser

They're colourful, carefully crafted and for a good cause, happening Saturday at Pat's Plants and Gardens.

Baskets of Hope raising money for mental health causes

Kelsey Puddister, and her cousin Alexa Kay Williams, stand amid the hanging baskets to be auctioned off on Saturday. (Bailey White/CBC)

A hanging basket at Pat's Garden and Greenhouse in Bay Bulls is filled with a lot more than flowers for Kelsey Puddister.

The mix of dark and vivid blooms bears a name: With Jake's Heart

"When I look at the basket, I get emotional every time," Puddister said.

That Jake is Jake Puddister, Kelsey Puddister's brother. They grew up together in Bay Bulls, and she recalls him as enthusiastic, funny and "the light of every room."

And the day he took his own life is etched into her brain: Aug. 24, 2016. He was 21 years old, and had struggled with mental illness for years.

Reeling with grief in the aftermath of Jake's death, the Puddister family found resolve by starting a charity in his name. 

The Jacob Puddister Foundation has since raised more than $200,000, and hopes to add to that amount Saturday, when 300 hanging baskets will be auctioned off at the greenhouse, each crafted in memory of someone who has died by suicide or for a loved one struggling with mental health.

Pat Puddester of Pat's Plants and Gardens says the fundraiser is a way to start tough conversations in the community. (Bailey White/CBC)

Baskets of Hope

Saturday's fundraiser is called Baskets of Hope, a name that came easily to Puddister and her co-organizers at the greenhouse.

"Looking around at these flowers, it's hard to remain sad for too long," she said.

The entire idea came from the crew at Pat's Plants, who approached the Puddister family with it after Jake's passing.

"We wanted to reach out to people, and bring them together and talk about mental health," said owner Pat Puddester.

Greenhouse employee Peggy Head said those conversations have already started. As Head worked with families to pick out the petunias, lobelias and other flowers to best serve each basket, she learned more about the people who inspired them, and what they faced.

"It's very touching. It's stories you'll never forget," she said.

"When I'm here, and looking at this, I look at Jake. I look at Gary. I look at Blair."

Puddister and Alexa check out some of the 300 baskets waiting to be sold. (Bailey White/CBC)

Putting a face on mental illness is one goal of the day, as well as chipping away at the stigma not just on the southern shore, but across the province.

"I hope the people who show up on Saturday take away a sense of community, and a sense that they're not alone. That we're in it together." Puddister said.

"In that solidarity, there's so much comfort."

The Baskets of Hope fundraiser runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, at Pat's Plants and Gardens in Bay Bulls.

 Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go