Best of Rhode Island 2020

While the pandemic changed life as we knew it, we’ve still got a lot to celebrate. Check out this list of do-good Rhode Islanders with whom we are lucky to share this place we call home, plus the results of our annual readers’ poll.

Innovation Nation

Rhode Island’s entrepreneurs who are nimble in a crisis.


Courtesy of Stock Culinary Goods

Jan Dane, Stock Culinary Goods
When a simple trip to the grocery store can have consequences, Jan Dane transformed the storefront of her kitchen wares shop into a grocery pickup window. Throughout the pandemic, customers ordered fresh, local goods (thinkWright’s Dairy milk and Baffoni Farm eggs) and tools (including quarantine-favorites like pasta makers and bread pans) online, then headed to Stock to safely grab their provisions from a safe (social) distance. 756 Hope St., Providence, 521-0101,

Eric Weiner, PVD Food Truck Events
When in-person events were canceled, Eric Weiner wasn’t about to let Food Truck nights come to an end. Rather, he made them virtual. Weiner arranged for online ordering and safe food truck meal pickups, encouraged patrons to support local beer and liquor providers and streamed live music on Facebook for customers at home. They also had the option of adding a “Health Care/First Responder Meal” to their order, effectively donating a food truck lunch to those on the frontlines.

Mask Up RI
commerce RI/styleweek/providencewarwick cvb
When face coverings in public became mandatory, they teamed up to inspire locals to, well, mask up. Mask Up RI, the joint social media initiative, highlights photos of those proudly donning their creative — and often homemade or locally purchased — coverings. As of press time, the Instagram account alone boasts more than 1,200 followers and features more than 400 masked Rhode Islanders. @mask_up_ri on Instagram, @mask_ri on Twitter, Mask Up RI on Facebook

Pea Poddery
Pea Poddery, a paint-your-own-pottery studio, didn’t crack under the pressure when the coronavirus prompted business shutdowns; it did a 180 and started offering to-go kits, a low-key family-friendly activity. Customers chose colors and pottery pieces (from mugs to pineapple planters) online, collected their customized kits at the store and unleashed their imaginations at home. They returned their masterpieces to Pea Poddery for firing in the kiln, resulting in a beautiful new keepsake. 2364 Diamond Hill Rd., Cumberland, 642-2953,

Angela Rotondo, Bloom Back Flowers (formerly Alice’s Table)
Johnston-based florist Angela Rotondo offered stunning bouquet deliveries, and introduced DIY flower arrangement kits to her preorder lineup. Whether entertaining a lonely loved one or practicing a new homey hobby, these creative kits allow Rhode Islanders to find the beauty in the every day.

Onne Van Der Wal gallery, pop-up dining room
When the virus hit and restaurants closed, the idea dawned on the van der Wals to transform an unused trade show trailer from their gallery business into a dining room. They fit the trailer floor with carpet, set up a table inside, strung up some lights and covered the interior walls with Onne van der Wal photography. “We wanted to support our community, especially restaurants during this slow time,” says daughter, Read van der Wal. 1 Bannister’s Wharf, Newport, 846-9552,

Community of Caring

Helping those who help us.


Courtesy of SEW Hope SNE

Jeanelle deJager-Paul, SEW Hope SNE
This mother of five from Lincoln and an analyst for Lifespan formed SewHopeSNE as a volunteer-based organization to sew masks for the health care industry. The volunteers assembled more than 18,000 face masks for area hospitals, nursing homes and group homes, made and distributed more than 1,000 scrub caps and repaired more than 700 isolation gowns.

Alex Marszalkowski, Adams Farm
Adams Farm staff were excited for their first season in the tulip business, until COVID-19 hit. Instead of selling the spring blooms, this state rep and member of the family that owns the farm, donated 50,000 tulips in 5,000 bouquets to senior centers, hospitals and nursing homes. They brought joy to many.

Lorraine Quintero, Central Falls High School
Members of the Central Falls High School community proved to be true “warriors” amid the crisis. Students donated part of their class funds to buy breakfast for frontline doctors and nurses at Miriam Hospital. Student Lorraine Quintero led the charge and she was featured on Oprah’s FB Live Graduation Ceremony, which included schools across the country. —Isabelle Paquette