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First Lady Luncheon – Volunteer Florist Experience!

Jun 4, 2019 | Behind The Scenes

It has been a privilege to be invited to DC to help design the floral decor for the First Lady Luncheon for the past three years!  Once again it was an honor and  wonderful experience to be a part of this incredible event.


There are about 20 designers and 10 support staff which make up the group of volunteers who come together from all over the country.  We work together for three days before the luncheon as well as putting in an early morning to finish set up on the day of the luncheon.


This year the Congressional Club invited all the volunteers to attend the luncheon!  Last year we were privileged to be invited as a select few of us  2nd year volunteers, but First Lady Melania was in the hospital and unable to be there.  This year we were all so happy that she was able to be with us and it was an amazing experience for the whole team!!  The First Lady Luncheon is just not the same without The First Lady!!


Come along with us and take a peak behind the scenes to get a glimpse of what goes into an event of this size and importance.  

We are fortunate to be able to design at the venue where the luncheon is held. We start by preparing the work rooms; covering the floor and work tables with plastic to protect them.  All of the supplies, many of which are donated and have been shipped and delivered are unpacked and organized.  All of the Oasis products are started soaking.  Buckets are filled with water which has flower food added to it.


DVFlora handled getting in all the flowers and the delivery truck arrived at the loading dock at 9 a.m.   The truck was filled with pallets of  boxes and procona packs of fresh flowers all donated by American Flower Farms!  Half of the team unloads the truck while the other half starts processing all of these flowers.  Everyone of these boxes has to be opened, all product counted and checked off (which turned out to be 21,385 stems of flowers & greens)!!

All the flowers have the packaging and bands removed, every stem is re-cut and dipped in Quick Dip, then put into the prepped buckets.  Each bucket is labeled with the name of the donating farm and the flower type, then taken to the design room.


We used foam in the vases this year to make transport to the ballroom easier.  All of the foam had to be soaked and cut and placed into the vases, then taped to secure.  We received our “recipes” and the designers started arranging the 96 vase designs.


In addition to the table centerpieces, there were six cascading flower arrangements and six 14″ table top arrangements which lined the head table.  The mechanics for these special pieces had to be constructed and put together.   I especially loved these ombre designs that had the soft pink added to the red to give a feminine touch to the head table where the First Lady was seated.


Last year’s flower wall was such a big hit, that it was decided to create two flower walls this year; one for the main reception area and another one for the VIP reception area.  These proved a very popular spot for everyone to take photos in front of.  Mechanics for the wall had to be constructed, then a grid of greens inserted with the flowers going in last.


The floral part of the ombre design wall flower is finished starting with burgundy blooms at the top, blending down to red, hot pink, pink, blush and fading to white at the bottom.  What a beautiful display of our American Grown Flowers!!!  


Such a wonderful variety of so many types of flowers sent by the farms on such a busy weekend – Mother’s Day!!


This is the holding room where the finished designs were stored until it was time to start loading into the ballroom.

In addition to all the vase centerpieces, we created 48 of these designs in flute bud vases placed in lanterns with moss and fairy lights.  


By Monday afternoon the tables had the linens placed and were ready for us to start the loading and placing of centerpieces to the ballroom.  We worked alongside the Congressional Club members as they prepped the swag bags and added all the special touches for the luncheon.


Tuesday morning started at 5 a.m. with the final load-in to the ballroom and surrounding reception areas.  We needed to be completed by 7:30 a.m. in time for the secret service to start their security sweep.  All hands were needed in every area to finish in time.


Some designers worked on completing the head table installations while I worked on the final installations to one of the flower walls.  The checkered cloth was added to the sides of the flower wall and we filled in with greens & flowers over the top of the cloth and up the sides of the sign to finish it off.  Other team members were busy setting up the reception areas with designs for the cocktail tables, 11 bathroom arrangements, 5 check-in arrangements, 14 hotel arrangements and  special arrangement just for FLOTUS!!  (First Lady Of The United States)


This was the 107th annual First Lady’s Luncheon honoring First Lady Melania Trump’s chosen charities.  This year the luncheon benefited WTEF (which serves children and their families from one of our nation’s toughest neighborhoods), and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.


Each year a different state plans the luncheon.  This year Indiana chose the theme of the luncheon “Hoosier Heartland” which featured Indy 500 – thus the black & white checkered linens and red flowers.


The menu consisted of Indiana Wurstsalat Salad, German Bologna, Roasted Corn, Pimento, French Radish and Traders Point Grain Mustard Vinaigrette; Braised 72 Hour Short Rib with XXX Root Beer Glaze, Indiana Shoepeg and Jalapeno Corn Pudding, Warm Petit Biscuits with Whipped Honey and Butter; Aunt Mandy’s Indiana Sugar Cream Pie with Coffee Ice Cream, Cafe and Wine Institute California Chardonnay.


Entertainment was provided by the US Marine Band; God Bless America was sung by Lee Greenwood and Nicole Mullen and Michael Smith both sung special selections for The First Lady.


First Lady Melania Trump is escorted to the head table.


Such a surreal experience for us!!!


The Second Lady, Karen Pence introduced The First Lady, Melania Trump.


The Star Spangled Banner was sung by Master Sergeant Kevin Bennear, USMC Baritone Soloist, US Marine Band.  It was so wonderful to witness everyone coming together for a bipartisan event in the spirit of patriotism for our country – how refreshing!!


First Lady Melania Trump has focused her time on the many issues affecting children.  An unwavering characteristic of the First Lady is her aptitude for showing love and compassion in all that she does.  She spends much of her time meeting with children all over the world – in classrooms, hospitals, care facilities, at home in the White House and in communities worldwide.  On May 7, 2019 Mrs. Trump celebrated the anniversary of BE BEST – her awareness campaign focused entirely around the well-being of children.


Our head designer for this year was Mary Kate Kinnane (The Local Bouquet) and assistant head designer was Christie Lopez (Bergerons Flowers).  They did a fantastic job of planning the event with the Congressional Club and leading the team.  Thank you to both of them for all of their hard work!!


We were able to come a day early this year and play tourist – there is so much to see and do in DC.  We toured a couple of the Smithsonian Museums, then went through the Holocaust Museum which was a very sad and sobering end to our tourist day.  It was very respectfully done and we would encourage everyone to take time to visit when you are in DC.


The volunteers pay all of our own expenses and the hotels are expensive in DC – a group of us were able to rent a house just blocks away from where the event was held.  Here we are with our friends Les and Melissa Salzman, who own a peony farm in Alaska, having dinner across the street from our house.


One of the very special parts of volunteering for this event is making friendships with designers from around the country.  It was great to see old friends from years past and make new friends too!!  Across the table from Wayne is Betty Joslyn (Joslyn Peony Farm) which we were able to visit when we were in Alaska last summer.


Another very special part of course is the flowers themselves.  I have a soft spot for pink peonies and these were some of the most gorgeous I have seen!!!


This has been a very different year for farmers as it has been so rainy.  We are usually done with corn planting before the First Lady Luncheon and the last two years we had finished with bean planting too before we came to DC.  This year we didn’t have anything planted and it turned out that it rained at home when we were gone so Wayne would not have been able to get in the field anyway.  Things have a way of working out – we are very thankful that as of this writing we were able to get our crops in the ground.


Thank you for sharing our experience of volunteering at The First Lady Luncheon 2019.  It was another never-to-be-forgotten experience!!


Most of these photos are courtesy of Kristen Smith Photography.  It will be obvious which ones were taken with my Iphone!

Sponsors:  DVFLora, Accent Decor, Oasis, The Congressional Club

Certified American Grown Flower Farms:

Bloomia, Camflor, Dramm & Echter, Eufloria, Fern Trust, Gallup & Stribling, Green Valley, Holland American Flowers, Kitayma, Mellano, Myraid, Menagerie Flower, Ocean Breeze, Ocean View Flowers, Paja Rosa, Pyramid, Resendiz Brothers, Westland Orchids.