One of the first things I learn from 79-year-old Sandi Craft of Fresno is that her name means “helper of mankind” – an apt description for the big-hearted retired kindergarten and special education teacher. Craft is normally the one doing the giving, but on this Thursday morning, she receives a gift of her own: a bright bouquet of flowers delivered to her doorstep by 6-year-old Sophia Singh.
“I wanted to surprise her because of all the nice things that she does, giving toys,” Sophia says. “I wanted to surprise her with something special, too.”
It means a lot to Craft, who lives alone and struggles with anxiety.
“When you have anxiety, it really helps to have friends come,” Craft says.
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Friends really are what helps me.
Sophia picked out the flowers with her mother, Debbie Singh, owner of the Fresno chapter of Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services. Visiting Angels staff delivered around 40 surprise flower bouquets and potted plants to clients in the Fresno area in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day – an operation they called “Blossoms of Love.” Many of their senior clients live alone, and Visiting Angels didn’t want any of them to feel lonely this Valentine’s Day.
“Hopefully it makes your day just a little brighter, a little bit better,” Debbie Singh tells Craft about the flowers.
“It makes it much better,” Craft replies.
Her Visiting Angels’ caregiver is Erika Reynoso, who stops by twice a week in the mornings.
“It’s a blessing that she comes, boy, I tell you,” Craft says. “I wait for her every morning and everything is good. She brings the paper and we have a happy life. She makes my coffee and she makes my breakfast. What can I say, she’s a joy. And she even knows how to decorate for Easter!”
By having Erika come, that anxiety goes away.
Before the Singhs’ arrival, Craft and Reynoso were hanging Easter egg ornaments on a small artificial tree sitting on a table. Craft was excited to put her new flowers in a vase beside the centerpiece.
Reynoso has been her caregiver for almost a year, but that number is inconsequential to this cheerful woman.
“I don’t know time,” Craft explains. “Every day is special. You woke up this morning, we all have to be thankful.”
I ask Craft about her hobbies.
“Well, this is the hobbies – getting nice flowers from special people, right?”
And I ask if she has plans for Valentine’s Day.
“No, I don’t have any plans. I have my flowers, right here.”
She jokes about picking off their petals one by one and asking, “He loves me, he loves me not.”
“If you find a man who drives at night, call me,” Craft adds with a laugh.
Someone would be lucky to have her as a valentine. She is marvelously compassionate and overflowing with fascinating and fun tidbits about life. Bee photographer Eric Zamora and I get a sample during our hourlong interview.
Some of the things Craft tells us: She once held a koala bear’“Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” is one of the best children’s books; 1 percent of Scandinavians are blind; she feeds squirrels “which you’re not supposed to do”; a raccoon ate all the koi fish out of a friend’s pond; another friend once raised three owls; Japan has the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s disease; living or working near major electrical power lines increases a person’s risk of developing cancer; children younger than 5 years old should listen to music and read books instead of playing on cellphones; she has adult books I can borrow (I didn’t get the clarification I was looking for about what “adult books” means); and she is open to having more weddings in her backyard.
“If anybody wants a wedding, I had a wedding in my backyard not long ago, so that was good.”
She’s very social. I can’t imagine Sandi going anywhere and her leaving and people not knowing who she is.
Also, she likes penguins.
“Do you know anyone that needs a penguin collection? I have one.”
(For the record: toy stuffed animal penguins.)
She likes to give stuffed animals as gifts every chance she can get.
Why not do things for people, huh? That’s what we’re here for, right?
She gives Sophia more stuffed animals and books on Thursday, and tries to give Zamora and me pink teddy bears holding hearts. We do accept, however, two pink camellia flowers that she picks off a tree and thrusts into our hands after our interview.
Craft’s compassion extends into a love of gardening. After flowers in her yard wither and fall off their stems, she dries them and collects the seeds. Reynoso tells me about this, and how Craft likes to spread the flower seeds in empty lots all over town.
I can’t imagine a more deserving recipient of a bouquet of flowers this Valentine’s Day.