One person who through the years has shown me an attitude of gratitude is my very dear friend Donna Gill Cardenas. For those who don’t know Donna, she and her brother Dennis are the owners of Port Charlotte Florist, and in one way or another most likely you’ve either seen or received some of this special lady’s floral arrangements.
When she turned thirteen Donna’s father decided to move the family to Florida as the cold upstate New York winters were taking a physical toll on him and Florida looked like the perfect place to retire, a retirement that didn’t last very long. Her mom went to work for Charlotte County Clerk, Barbara Scott, while her dad bought a small flower shop. Being the entrepreneur he was, Donna’s dad expanded the business to five locations throughout Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. While her three brothers owned and worked in their wholesale garden center, Donna worked for her dad. However, as the business grew her dad felt with perishable items such as flowers it would be more beneficial to consolidate everything into a centralized location. So in 1983 he built the store at 900 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte where the business operates today.
In 2007, Donna met her husband Steve. At the time she was a foster parent having already adopted one child of her own however, once Steve became her husband Donna became an instant mother to five children. She joked, “No longer was I able to foster as we literally ran out of room!” She added with a smile, “I always wanted a large family and suddenly I had one. Steve’s kids meant the world to me and I was blessed beyond measure, taking my role as being a Mom very seriously.”
Her business partner and brother, Dennis, was there to take care of things so she could care for Dominic. Her sister Mary, who also works with them, was a tremendous help as were the countless other family members and friends who were always willing to lend a hand. It was through their generosity that enabled Donna to be where she needed to be, caring for her son and family.However, it was years ago on a Mission trip to Ecuador that Donna was inspirationally touched by a man named Chavez. Donna said, “Here was a man who lost his entire family to a guerilla militant group and was surrounded by poverty, but he looked like he had a hanger stuck in his mouth as he had the widest smile I had ever seen.” Today she says, “Each day, during my thirty minute drive time to and back from work I use this time to think of Chavez who lost everything and think how fortunate I am.”
Another great example of their creative giving, Port Charlotte Florist is hosting a special class where they donate the time and flowers for 50 people to create two floral arrangements each and these 100 arrangements will then be delivered to families who wouldn’t have flowers for Thanksgiving. Donna said, ” The premise behind this gift is many times special loved ones can’t be together, but the person on the receiving end feels those that couldn’t be present physically were there emotionally to share in this special day of Thanksgiving .” She added, ” It also teaches the giver the reward they receive will be even greater than the receiver, and I for one have always felt we were blessed ten times over the amount we gave.” Donna continued her thought by saying, “I was always fortunate to have parents who were very giving and gracious. I married a man who embodies the same principles in giving of your talents and treasures to comfort others. I’m blessed to be in business with family that also shares the belief we should bless those around us, and to share our love.” With humility Donna said, “Having all these people in my life is what makes me look so good, and that includes Dominic.” “Dominic always wanted to help everyone,” Donna shared with me, and to perpetuate “Dom’s” desire to give, especially in a sport he loved, Donna and her husband Steve have started the Dominic Cardenas’ Scholarship Fund which awards a scholarship to a high school male and female cross country or track runner.
I asked Donna if she had any final thoughts, especially for this time of year when we sit around the Thanksgiving table giving thanks for the blessings we’ve received. She replied by saying, “I think about the day I will die and go to heaven and God says to me, “I gave you a gift. What did you do with the gift I gave you?” Her reply made me realize there is a lot to be thankful for that we take for granted, and that I too need to use the gifts I have to help brighten the lives of others.