Story: Rhode Island Resident Cooks Up Comfort for Neighbors

Hurricane Irene: Rhode Island

When the electricity went out following Tropical Storm Irene, John Sousa did what he has always done. He started cooking for his fellow residents at Olmsted Garden Apartments, an independent living facility in Providence, RI.

He cooked the Italian meals he knows, like pasta and meatballs. He drove to the grocery store and bought cold cuts. He made 18 to 20 pots of coffee a day, using an old-fashioned pot and the facility stove. While the refrigerator didn’t have electricity, the stove ironically did.

Hurricane Irene: Rhode Island

And as food spoiled in residents’ refrigerators, they handed Sousa a dollar or two and he picked up takeout food at local restaurants for them.

Sousa, 69, is used to cooking for everyone. He gave a party for 100 people the week before Tropical Storm Irene knocked down trees, power lines and left half the state of Rhode Island in the dark. The reason: He wanted to cook an Italian wedding dinner for his 2-year-old great-granddaughter because he doesn’t think he’ll see the day when she eventually marries.

“When she looks back on her life when I’m gone, she’ll say my grandfather gave me my wedding dinner when I was young.”

His fellow residents were grateful for his cooking. But by Thursday, the fourth day after the storm, residents of Olmsted Garden still did not have electricity. As they saw lights go on at neighboring businesses, they thought they had been forgotten. The Red Cross, made aware of their situation, came to the apartment building.

An Emergency Response Vehicle set up in the parking lot on Thursday, Sept. 1, handing out chili, peas and – something the residents particularly looked forward to – hot coffee.

Sousa, who is used to taking care of everyone, teared up as he talked on camera to a local television station, saying to the Red Cross, “Thank you, thank you.”

Hearing how grateful the residents were for the Red Cross, some of the volunteers also teared up.

Marsha Palmer, a manager at Olmsted Garden, said to Red Cross volunteers as they were leaving, “It’s so heartwarming that you came to us.” Likewise, Marsha, likewise.

The American Red Cross has been helping people all along the eastern seaboard as they cope with the devastation left behind by Hurricane Irene. In Rhode Island, more than 100 Red Cross workers provided more than 500 overnight stays in 13 emergency shelters, served nearly 17,500 meals and provided more than 26,000 snacks.

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