Bobby Martorelli launched his landscape business, Martorelli Property Services, with a single lawnmower when he was a student at Vets High. It took many hours of work plus a number of odd jobs like delivering pizzas to get to where he is today with a staff of 10, a fleet of five trucks and more than 360 customers.
One night last week Martorelli had difficulty sleeping. He thought of what he had achieved and of those starting their life’s journey. He knew he wanted to help, in some way give back.
“I wanted to do something for the community,” he said Thursday afternoon as workers signed out for the day from his place of business on West Shore Road.
The following morning, Martorelli bought two girls and two boys backpacks. He didn’t have anyone in mind to give them to, so he posted his gift on the Positive Warwick Facebook page and urged those who needed the backpacks to contact him.
It took off from there.
The posting was shared more than 1,500 times in less than 24 hours. People liked what he was doing and wanted to help. People started dropping off backpacks filled with school supplies at his business. They came in ones and twos and then in greater numbers as companies and organizations joined in the cause. Marie Cavanaugh and Second Chance came through with all the items to pack in the bags. Kaydin Strong donated 20 backpacks.
Meanwhile, requests for the backpacks, which was at first a trickle, grew to a torrent. More requests were being posted than there were backpacks. Martorelli established a nightly online raffle that he followed with notifications to the winners.
His gesture to help four kids who could use backpacks had grown into something far bigger than he imagined. It had taken on a life of its own. Martorelli realized he wasn’t looking to establish a non-profit or looking to grow the outreach, although he does see doing a coat drive and meeting other needs as they arise.
He’s not looking for notoriety or “making it a game” where people are following to see the raffle winners of the day. Rather, he is hopeful of being an example and inspiration for others.
“If everyone did something like this, imagine what it would be like,” he said.
There’s more to Martorelli’s message than giving back. He is hopeful his own story of starting off with little and how, with determination and work, even when the odds seem insurmountable, good things will happen.
“The light is in the end of the tunnel. If you keep pushing, everything is possible,” he said.
Martorelli does not accept cash donations. At this time it’s backpacks and the contents for those packs.
“Gifts mean so much more than money to kids,” he said.
Especially moving for him was the girl in a wheelchair who came to his business to pick up a backpack. As it turned out, another girl was also hopeful of receiving a backpack, but there wasn’t one available. The girl in the wheelchair gave hers away.
As of Thursday, Martorelli said he has collected 50 backpacks and received 300 requests. He said he has no way of verifying the need of those requesting backpacks. He trusts parents making the requests can truly use the help and are not simply seeking to avoid an expense they could afford.
Martorelli’s mother, Mary Lee Martorelli, is his biggest cheerleader. A substance abuse counselor at Community Care Alliance in Woonsocket, she has seen her share of people who have fallen on tough times. She is proud of her son’s effort to help those who are less fortunate and face personal challenges. And what’s more, she said, he has set an example for his younger brother and sister.
So that he can run his business in addition to helping others, Martorelli has set a drop-off time of 9 to 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays for backpacks. Pickups are arranged when raffle winners are notified.
Martorelli’s business is located at 1161 West Shore Road, next to the Sun Rise café.