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SHAWNEE, Kan. — A Shawnee man is responsible for hundreds of smiles from metro mothers every May. He makes and delivers free flower boxes for Mother’s Day.

But the coronavirus crisis has changed the process a bit this year.

Bill McMurtrey has made thousands of Mother’s Day flower boxes in the last 28 years, but he’s never done it during a pandemic.

“The demand has doubled this year,” he said. “I’ve already passed out, I don’t know, 100-plus boxes, 130 at least, and we’re going to shoot for about 400 or 500 tonight.”

A handful of friends gathered in his driveway to saw, sand, nail, fill and plant.

“Usually my army is about two dozen or more,” he said. “It’s little limited this year. We have guys that are, you know, that aren’t able to make it because they’re of the age range where they’re more at risk.”

The people who can help in the middle of COVID-19 have collected old fences for weeks. They cut the wood, build the boxes, and in the middle plant a simple, universal symbol of Mother’s Day: flowers.

McMurtrey’s own mother has been gone more than a decade, but his mission continues.

“It’s not just even the biological mothers; it’s all ladies involved,” he said. “Let them know that they’re appreciated this time of year, and they should be always.”

He said the best part is seeing the selflessness of others and hearing their stories.

“They’re like, ‘Hey, I know you’re real busy. You don’t have to give me one. But if you could take it to Susie over here, that would be great,'” he said.

“You have everything from parents that have passed away to one lady who’s here in the stuck in the States can’t go overseas. Her daughter is dying.”

He knows at the end of the day, it really is just a box of flowers. It’s more about what that little box represents.

“This is not the vaccine to the pandemic. It’s not a cure,” McMurtrey said. “It’s flowers just to say, ‘Hey, you’re not forgotten.’ And I think to some people, being told they’re not forgotten is uplifting thing for that time period.”

He pays for the flowers and won’t take donations. If you’d like to reach him to request flowers or learn how to start your own giveaway, email him at