Many parts of the country have been experiencing a harsh summer heat wave recently. For most people, it’s inspired them to stay out of the sun as much as possible.
But for one woman, the heat has inspired her to revive an inspiring tradition—one that brings back some bittersweet memories.
It all started about eight years ago. One hot summer day, Charlie Poveromo, a bartender from New Milford, New Jersey, saw his local garbagemen sweating and struggling in the heat, and it gave him an idea.
He decided to leave water out for the workers.
“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,” his wife Velvet Poveromo wrote.
Seeing how much the act of kindness meant to the workers, Charlie went out to the store, filled a cooler with ice and water bottles, and explained that the cooler would be full and available all summer.
Charlie made good on his word, and left a full cooler out every summer morning—and the menu expanded to other drinks and food. Word got around.
“As word spread, we’d often see not only our sanitation engineers, but DPW employees, police officers, firemen, construction workers and the like stop by for a breather, some shade under our tree and a nice cold bottle of water,” Velvet said.
He kept the tradition going every summer—but tragically, this year he wouldn’t be there to fill the cooler.
Charlie died of a heart attack earlier this year.
Velvet lost her husband of 37 years—but three months after his death, she found the perfect way to honor Charlie.
“Once the weather started getting warm, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, the water bottles,'” she told NorthJersey.com.
She decided to keep up the tradition of “Charlie’s cooler.”
Still grieving her husband, Velvet went out and stocked up on water bottles to fill the cooler. “I had to step into his shoes,” she said. “I had to do it. It was his tradition, and I had to honor him.”
So this summer, the sanitation workers of New Milford found the familiar cooler—but this time, with a somber note. Velvet left out a sign and a stack of prayer cards from Charlie’s services.
“In case you were unaware, my husband, Charlie, passed away suddenly at age 57 on March 10th,” the sign read. “I will do my best to continue to provide bottled water.”
According to Velvet’s Facebook post, one morning the garbagemen stepped out of the truck to salute her.
“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,” she wrote.
“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.”
Other people inspired by her story have started leaving out their own coolers.
Velvet says that people all over New Jersey, and even other states like Wyoming, have started leaving out their own “Charlie’s coolers.”
“It’s taken on a life of its own,” she said. “Every person who does it, it’s a tribute to him.”
While Charlie is gone, he’d be happy to know that he’s left quite a legacy—that his little act of kindness has meant so much to people and taken on a life of its own.
“It’s simple, but it means something,” Velvet said. “It’s the simple things that matter.”