Les Draudt had heard the warnings from law enforcement about scammers taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
So when he got a call from a stranger who had learned via social media and local broadcast outlets that his greenhouse operation was in trouble because no one was ordering his flowers and was offering to give him $10,000, he thought someone was trying to make him the next victim.
"If it sounds too good to be true, it very well could be,” Draudt recalled.
Only this time, it was both true and another example of Western New Yorkers figuring out a way to help each other through unprecedented turmoil.
The person making the offer was local developer William Huntress, who found Draudt's reaction to his offer both understandable and hilarious.
“I’m trying to give him 10 grand and he didn’t want to take it," Huntress said. "I told him he could use it however he wanted, but I wasn’t going to help him deliver the flowers or make the arrangements. He was so funny; he really didn’t believe it.”
Draudt's Hamburg greenhouse was full of Easter plants that were supposed to be delivered to churches, restaurants and other businesses in the area. But many of the businesses were closed in the wake of the pandemic.
As a farmer, Draudt had grown accustomed to setbacks. Draudt’s Farm Market at 4779 Clark St. opened in 1923 and is in its third generation of family ownership. But with an inventory of 12,000 flowering plants and no orders on the horizon, this was too much.
“So many outlets for our plants had to cancel – mostly churches and other businesses who aren’t allowed to open, and other markets that don’t grow anything or don’t want to open because they don’t think they’ll have business,” said Draudt, 61.
So Draudt's wife Lynda posted the dilemma on social media and the farm market opened one week earlier to sell whatever it could. The story of the Draudts' plight was picked up by WGRZ and Spectrum news.
The situation was bleak, until Draudt's the phone rang and Huntress told him what he wanted to do.
The two businessmen talked and determined the plants – tulips, daffodils, mums, hyacinths, lilies – could be taken to hospitals, hospices and nursing homes.
Most of the bulbs were shipped from the Netherlands, planted in October and closely monitored.
“That is the problem with this business. Our crop is long term, and the plants have been growing all winter. Now just a week or two before what would have been a very busy season, we run into this problem that we never saw coming,” said Draudt.
On Thursday, Draudt dropped off a load of plants at Father Baker Manor in Orchard Park. Friday morning, his truck was headed to Mercy Hospital.
“We’re used to adversity in the farming business,” he said. “We’ve dealt with it for a long time, but this was a new one and we’ll just work as hard as we can, which we always do.”
In the meantime, the market is open for business, with a huge assist from a new friend.