LITTLE COMPTON — Designing floral arrangements for a wedding — even a big, fat wedding — takes skill and organization, but presiding over 22,380 stems of flowers and foliage for the first lady of the United States is a monumental task, albeit a sweet-smelling one.
That was the assignment undertaken by Mary Kate Kinnane, owner and lead designer of The Local Bouquet, a floral business this mom of four runs from her Little Compton, Rhode Island, home.
“It’s pretty grand and it’s pretty crazy,” Kinnane said. “It’s such a great event.”
The Congressional Club’s 107th annual First Lady’s Luncheon was held May 14 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. The event is a fundraiser for charities chosen by the first lady.
This year, proceeds benefited the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer Research and the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation.
“It’s a bi-partisan event, so both parties are there supporting (the cause) no matter who’s in office,” Kinnane said.
Kinnane, who has volunteered for the last three years for Certified American Grown, the company charged with flowering the event, was trained last year to lead the 2019 luncheon. And she’ll pass the baton to next year’s leader.
Kinnane and a team of 30 floral design volunteers from across the country came together and “set up a flower shop in the hotel” for a massive production of design with “wow” factor.
“We worked there for four days straight,” Kinnane said.
The team created 144 centerpieces, six cascading arrangements for the head table, 1,200 boutonnieres for the guests, two floral walls (worthy of posed photos and selfies), 15 sponsor arrangements, 18 cocktail arrangements and one arrangement for the first lady herself.
At the luncheon, Kinnane sat at the American Grown table, front row, just 10 feet away from first lady Melania Trump and second lady Karen Pence, and said it was “very cool.”
While Kinnane didn’t get to meet the first lady, she said Melania Trump’s speech “was lovely and she seemed very gracious and warm.”
Kinnane said she spent the past eight months planning the event with the Congressional Club, which included flying to Washington for discussions.
This year’s event theme was “Hoosier Heartland,” with a focus on the Indie 500.
Kinnane’s job, along with that of volunteers, was to “bring the vision to life for them.”
They used black-and-white striped tablecloths and race car linens with red and burgundy flowers.
“The head table was more grand,” Kinnane said.
The event peaked Kinnane’s interest a few years back as a member of Certified American Grown, a coalition of U.S. flower farms. Kinnane, in her wedding and arrangement business, uses only American-grown flowers. She said some 80 percent of the flowers sold in the United States are imported.
As a member of Certified American Grown, Kinnane said she attends networking events and meets many other designers who also use only locally grown flowers. One of their endeavors is flowering the first lady’s luncheon each year.
“Farms all across the U.S. each year donate to the luncheon,” she said.
Email Deborah Allard at firstname.lastname@example.org.