Stepping Up: Ocean State Job Lot promoting health equity during pandemic

David Sarlitto, at left, stands amid supplies at Family Services of Rhode Island in Providence along with Dave Cooley, an FSRI staffer. / COURTESY FAMILY SERVICES OF RHODE ISLAND

NORTH KINGSTOWN The pandemic was just another reason for Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation to continue its philanthropic efforts, while promoting health equity and developing relationships with nonprofits in need.

David Sarlitto, the executive director of the foundation, said it is also a way to learn about what an organization does to try to help them sustain their goals and missions.

“I knew very little about Family Services of Rhode Island,” he said, referencing the organization which the Charitable Foundation recently supplied with food and supplies. The foundation’s aim during the pandemic has been to promote health equity statewide, something it had in common with FSRI.

In this case, it was FSRI’s “Be Safe Program,” which was the recipient of seven pallets of dry food weighing 8,500 pounds, 15,000 eight-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer, and 15,000 packs of sanitizing wipes. The program began in March, as a fully donation-driven effort, focused on bridging the health equity gap in the state during the pandemic.

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“It’s an honor and a privilege to be part of what they’re doing,” said Sarlitto, noting that the foundation assesses community needs in carrying out its efforts. “We’re proud to have the ability to provide these donations to Family Service of Rhode Island, which has been on the frontlines throughout our state since the onset of the pandemic.”

As part of its operational model, the OSJL sends Sarlitto into communities before opening a store to assess the local climate. “The Charitable Foundation is the first one into a community,” he said.

Sarlitto said donations for FSRI were secured through its “recent Three Square Meals Food Drive with iHeart Media, and through our global supply chain, we’ve been able to purchase extremely large quantities of critically-important items like hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes, both of which are effective in slowing the spread of COVID.”

The foundation’s leadership team meets daily to strategize and determine organizations that need support in Rhode Island. “They need the supplies to keep their organization running, so we find them for them,” said Sarlitto, who delivers some of the supplies. “And we try to make that happen in a short period of time.”

“Operationally there are always going to be challenges, but we find ways to overcome them and deliver what is needed,” he said, before remarking that he felt like an “elf” delivering Christmas gifts to FSRI.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of Ocean State Job Lot,” said Margaret Holland McDuff, CEO of Family Service of Rhode Island. “This comes at a really critical moment for us as a community in our fight to make a real impact against the spread of the virus.”

“Their donation of food and cleaning supplies will immediately help keep our family, friends, and neighbors safe during a very difficult time this winter,” she said. “Partnerships like theirs make it possible to keep the ‘Be Safe Program’ going when it’s needed most, and we’re so grateful that they stepped in to make this possible.”

FSRI’s “Be Safe Program,” has evolved into a movement, and since March of 2020 it has supplied over 30,000 Rhode Islanders with free Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies and food.

For information about FSRI, visit, text BESAFE to 44321, or (401) 519-2269.

The Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation can be contacted via (401) 295-2672 or

Providence Business News is spotlighting examples of nonprofits, companies and workers stepping up to challenges presented by the spread of the new coronavirus.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. You may reach him at

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