Not a day goes by that Velvet Poveromo of Ridgefield Park, New Jersey does not miss her husband, Charlie.
The couple had been married for thirty-seven years when he died suddenly at age 57. Velvet carries on as many of Charlie’s traditions as she can, but now that he’s gone she realizes just how much he always did to make their lives run smoothly. From doing housework and yard work to caring for their grandson, Charlie worked hard to improve everything he touched.
Maintaining Charlie’s duties and traditions has not always been easy for Velvet, but she feels compelled to honor her husband’s spirit by continuing as many of them as she can. This year, as the summer heat crept in, she remembered one of Charlie’s habits that she knew in her heart he’d want her to continue.
Maybe 5+ years ago, we were suffering through a brutal summer heat wave, and Charlie saw our garbage truck pull up, and the men were pale and sweating profusely. He came running into the kitchen, grabbed a bunch of plastic cups and our big jug of water, and made sure everyone got as much as they wanted.
That very afternoon, he ran to the store, bought several cases of bottled water and bags of ice, and the next morning at 6:30 am, after working all night and only getting a few hours of sleep, he loaded them into one of our coolers and waited for the truck to roll up. I watched as he went up to the truck and explained that, from now on, the cooler would contain cold drinks for them all summer long.
Word soon got out, and by summer’s end, Velvet would routinely see not only sanitation workers, but DPW employees, police officers, firemen, and construction workers taking advantage of Charlie’s cooler full of water, snacks, and Gatorade.
Just getting out of bed had become a heroic feat for Velvet as she grieved the loss of her husband, but she dragged herself out of the house one day to buy cases of water to fill Charlie’s cooler. She left a note on the cooler to explain that her husband had passed away.
The following week, Velvet was honored by a sweet surprise from her local sanitation engineers, and she’ll never forget it.
Last Thursday, as I headed toward my house after restocking the cooler, I heard the unmistakable sound of the garbage truck ease to a stop. As I turned to look, I watched in awe as each man stepped off the truck, the driver getting out to join them, and in a straight line they stood together and saluted our home and me!
My eyes filled with tears and my body began to tremble as one by one they each came up to me, grasped my hand, gave me a hug, and told me how very sorry they were and that no one had ever shown them the thoughtfulness and appreciation my husband had. Then slowly, one by one, they each took a water bottle or two, climbed back up on the truck, and gave a loud beep as they drove off.
But the story of Charlie’s cooler doesn’t end there.
After neighbors heard that Velvet was continuing Charlie’s tradition of keeping workers cool during the summer months, they began dropping off cases of bottled water to contribute in some small way. Soon, #CharliesCooler became a trending hashtag on social media, and other people began leaving coolers of their own outside their houses.
Velvet hopes Charlie’s tradition will continue to gain momentum until it’s a nationwide movement of kindness. “This entire thing is having such a beautiful ripple effect and I couldn’t be more grateful and moved by your kindness and tribute to Charlie,” she wrote on Facebook.
This story just goes to show you what a lasting effect kindness can have on a community. All it took was one man who noticed others in need and did something about it. Now, his kindness and humanity will live forever.
Share this message of ‘paying it forward’ to all who need to hear it.