One person can make a difference

Posted 11/22/22

You can’t miss Shawn O’Rourke’s Marion Avenue home in Edgewood.

It’s the one with the porch loaded with bags of groceries, clothing, toys, furniture and anything that is of …

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One person can make a difference


You can’t miss Shawn O’Rourke’s Marion Avenue home in Edgewood.

It’s the one with the porch loaded with bags of groceries, clothing, toys, furniture and anything that is of need to help people get by.

Her phone and doorbell are constantly ringing.

“Can you use a set of dishes?” “I have a bunch of sweaters that don’t fit me.” “Want a case of tomato soup?” “How about cat food?”

The minute she loads her SUV and delivers the items to those in need, the porch fills up again.

“There are so many families in crises in Rhode Island,” said O’Rourke. “If we all did something, no matter how small …. The point is, everyone can make a difference; everyone can do something, and there is always something to be done.”

The retired flight attendant and television salesperson collected and distributed over 900 pounds of food to six different charities in the last two weeks, making an average of six visits a week to shelters, dropping off clothing, blankets, personal items and anything that people can use to make their lives a little bit easier.

People communicate with her via phone, email, Next Door, social media, and at the drug store and grocery store.

“Everybody knows Shawn,” said Pat Kohler, Office Administrator at Edgewood Congregational Church. “She knows everybody and knows the needs of individuals and community organizations.”

O’Rourke has made friends with the nearby students at Johnson and Wales who bake bread and cakes which she delivers to the Federal Hill House.

O’Rourke accepts no money for her work. She pays for her gas and other expenses out of her own pocket through money she makes cat sitting and caring for a disabled person.

“I have no staff and no plans to hire anyone,” she said. “I have a friend who spends summers in Rhode Island and helps me out.”

She loads her SUV by herself, carrying heavy bags and boxes.

Why does she do it?

“I see children walking to school without jackets,” she said. “I see people living in cars. I see people at meal sites getting their only meal of the day. One person can do a lot. “And there is always something to be done. My altruistic Baptist grandfather taught me that.”

“I am my brother’s keeper!”

O’Rourke grew up in Warwick, graduated from URI and now is an active part of the Edgewood community. Her one-woman mission began six years ago when she was looking for something to do with three jackets that her grandchildren had outgrown. She saw a public service announcement from McCauley House, delivered them there and asked the right question: “What else do you need?”

Before she knew it, she was working with seven charities, including McCauley House and Village, St. Martin de Porres, Federal Hill House, Edgewood Congregational Church, the Edgewood/Pawtuxet Food Closet, and the Providence Rescue, where over 1,000 blankets were donated.

There are some items that she cannot accept for health and safety reasons, such as stuffed animals, children’s books, many toys, appliances and perishable foods.

O’Rourke has gotten to know the people and institutions she helps and will often put out an appeal for diapers and the next day her porch was overloaded. The same happened with socks.

How long can she keep up this pace?

“As long as there is a need, I’ll be there,” she said. “And it is much more than me. It is the generous people of our community!”

Shawn, needy