Every night for fifteen years Gigi wakes up at three, takes the truck to Viale Toscana, in Milan, and reaches the destination of the daily collection.
It is the beginning of June, the country is moving with uncertain steps towards a return to normal, the destination today is the industrial area of Calcinate to collect expiring products from large food chains. Pallets of food unsold as a result of the pandemic that without the associations that help the needy would end up in the compactors, destroyed, wasted.
“At least that’s how we fill people’s stomachs.” Gigi crosses the Lombard countryside, is familiar with the curves and the land that, at dawn, emits a powerful smell of sand.
In Calcinate he has to collect eighteen pallets, 100 tons of hamburgers and frozen sandwiches and desserts from a well-known fast food chain. It is a little past seven when he reaches the factory, the temperature of the refrigerators shows less than twenty-four, a few words with the workers on the platform, Gigi organizes the space of the van, greets quickly and goes back. There are food packages to prepare.
Gigi works at Pane Quotidiano, a secular association that for over a century has been helping the needy in Milan with basic necessities. Before the pandemic, the sidewalks of the two offices crowded before dawn, then, on February 21st, the management closed to the public for safety reasons, and the queue has turned into telephone inquiries, hundreds in a few days, all of which had the same tone: “I’m hungry. We are hungry. Help us. “
So the association reorganized. The large square transformed into a hub for the Civil Protection vehicles and the volunteers, who first prepared the food parcels, put themselves on the trail of the faces that made up the row of the Milanese need and then remained closed in the house, with fear of contagion, without work or savings, with the pantry that emptied in a few days.
“Ready? I call from the daily Bread, where can we reach it? Don’t go out, we’ll come. ” A number, and a word of mouth that becomes the map of another contagion, that of poverty. The means of the association that every day increased the number of trips, packages, the list of the needy: “does your neighbor also need? Don’t be ashamed, give us the number, we’ll call you. “
On June 4, the viale Toscana headquarters reopened, phase three of the aid coincides with the reorganization of the spaces. Users no longer enter to choose the products but wait at a distance for the turn to receive an already sealed package of food. It’s Saturday morning, the gate opens at 9, but at six the queue already turns the corner, comes to the cylinders of the new Bocconi Campus, symbols of a city that are two.
Two distinct voices, two opposite directions.
Known faces and new faces, those of new emergencies, of new poverty.
Flavia is a teacher in a high school, she has been a volunteer for a year and a half, opens the envelope: pasta, peeled, thin slices, biscuits, canned tuna and chickpeas, bananas “the help is mutual, we do not reach out to anyone the curtain, here we shake hands. It is very different, for who gives and who takes. “
Flavia approaches vulnerabilities with discretion, a delicacy that adapts to ages and religions, to previous knowledge, the embarrassment of strangeness for new arrivals, inexperienced to ask, inexperienced to accept.
Mariana is of Romanian origin, in Italy for twenty years, she worked as a caregiver, dishwasher, then a contract in a cleaning company in luxury hotel chains. Wait for layoffs since March, but nothing. He has three children, the youngest is in the queue with her. It is the first time that he has difficulty shopping, before the epidemic the only embarrassment he remembers is having to explain to the boys that he cannot afford the branded shoes and sweatshirts, or that there was not enough money to recharge the phone every week.
Then one morning she got up and there was nothing left in the fridge, not even “I had no savings and lacked the necessary” in my wallet. She doesn’t want to cry, because her son is there and because she has been growing up alone for so many years and tears are a luxury she is used to not giving herself. He grabs the envelope and squeezes it as essential things tighten, like the air as you go downhill “will we recover from this shame?”. Mariana’s greeting is a question. Flavia encourages her “stealing is shame”, but Mariana shakes her head. “No – he replies – because when you have nothing, if nobody helps you and you have mouths to feed, you are also ready to steal.”
The desperation of hunger can overturn the logic of common sense and the volunteers of the charitable organizations today are also called to this: stem the vulnerability before it becomes deviance.
Anna has the look of a leathery woman. Outside the mask he has eyes of irreducible tenacity. He has worked for fifty years, since he was thirteen. First as a sales assistant, then many other illegal jobs, up to the minimum pension that is not enough for her alone, let alone now that she shares home and money with her son: until February she worked by the hour in a gym and now no more. Poverty for her is a gesture, or rather two. He takes a few steps back, his right hand lowers his mask to his chin, Anna opens her mouth and spreads her smile: «see? It is no longer just a matter of eating and not eating. It’s like eating. “
Half of her teeth are missing, the ones that remain are broken, “I don’t know how many years I haven’t been to the dentist, I can’t afford it.” And when, with the same decor, she puts the elastic bands around her ears again, she approaches and surrenders to the mood that accompanied her at the end of Viale Toscana, the breakdown “is a heavy old age, I know that life changes and I know that life is made up of stairs, but you can’t always get on and off. “
Then fix the zipper of the trolley and walk towards the bus stop with a shopping bag and a renewed embarrassment.
Jole is eighty-six years old, lives on a 850 euro pension, 600 goes away for rent. The math of need is quickly done. Before the epidemic she had lunch in the canteens to save on a meal, then also for the canteens the times and places were reduced and Jole was alone at home with little to eat. She has the small body of old age that curves over herself, the volunteers know her and she returns the smiles by calling everyone by name. “At my age it is worse to be alone than to be hungry.” So every morning Jole wakes up and forces herself to pretend that everything is fine.
Especially now that he has received the eviction notice.
“What’s good today?”
“Fresh robiola, Jole,” and she accepts gratefully, pauses to talk a little more while Flavia counts the people who have come up to that moment.
It’s nine forty.
The envelopes delivered are already three hundred eighty-six.
According to the latest Istat report on poverty in Italy 1.7 million families live, 4 and a half million people, in conditions of absolute poverty and 3 million families (nine million people) in relative poverty. The Institute of Statistics photographs a country that are three, the percentage of families in absolute poverty in the South is in fact 8.6% of the total, a percentage that drops to 5.8 in the north and 4.5 in the center.
Geographical differences are not the only ones: the larger families are poorer and the families of resident foreign citizens are poorer. 26.9% compared to 5.9% of Italian families.
The data of the report refer to 2019, the concern of the third sector is that the numbers for next year are destined to grow as a consequence of the epidemic.
“In 2019 we distributed 75 thousand tons of food, during the emergency the requests increased by 40% throughout Italy with peaks of 70% in the South”. To speak is Giovanni Bruno, president of Banco Alimentare, an organization that since 1989 has been involved in recovering food and distributing it to people in difficulty through 7,500 charitable structures.
“We have been helping a million and a half people permanently for a long time, but the image of the country in need that is giving us back this crisis is completely new”, continues Bruno. In Milan alone, 215 thousand people are helped, which has been growing steadily since March. But Bruno is sure that the peak will come in the autumn. Virologists fear the second wave of Covid, charitable organizations think the escalation of poverty is inevitable with the end of savings, layoffs and commercial activities that are struggling to restart. «The range is widening, carousels and cooks call us, show business workers and shop assistants, waiters and students who are ashamed to ask their parents for help. The theme is: now we are scrambling to reabsorb the effects of the pandemic. But already before there were almost five million absolute poor and among them more than a million children. Going back to the first means going back to this and it is not a happy prospect ».
In the Banco Alimentare warehouse there are goods recovered from large retailers and those financed by the Fund for European aid to the most deprived (Fead) which has a budget of 3.8 billion euros for the period 2014-2020 and one goal: the fight against poverty and social exclusion.
For the European institutions, a citizen considers himself to be severely destitute if he cannot afford a rent or bills, if he cannot heat his home, eat quality protein once every two days, use a car, a washing machine or a color TV and afford a phone.
Marianna cannot afford any of this, it arrives that it is almost evening in a parish on the outskirts of Milan with two of the three daughters, she would never have imagined, before March, knocking on the sacristy door to ask for food. He worked in a school canteen for nineteen years, with a nine-month part-time contract, and the salary that was supposed to be enough for twelve doing economics on everything. Her daughter Giulia, who is 23 today, left school at 15 to help her mother raise her sisters. She worked as a bartender and waitress almost always in black, then various internships that did not become employment contracts and in February she was completing a test that she hoped would become an apprenticeship.
Then the pandemic translated that hope into yet another “we will let you know”.
Marianna has stopped paying rent and bills, the layoff, arrived three months late, is 340 euros. He says that he has learned to be smiling, that when you have three girls at home to feed the shame disappears, you take them by the hand and teach them that sometimes in life you have to ask for help and that this time it’s up to them.
Giulia nods, looks at her with admiration. They share eight years of hardship and common labors.
«We no longer know what to sacrifice, I stopped studying, I worked while my peers were having fun – says Giulia, squeezing her mother’s hand tightly – and I don’t want to give up hope for a more beautiful life. For me and my sisters ».
Who risk becoming girls in absolute poverty in the next Istat report.