Anyone going along Via B. Rucellai early on a Thursday morning might wonder about the group of people hanging around outside the gates of the St. James American Church, writing their names on a clip board hanging off the railings.
Well, these are the ‘customers’ of the weekly Food Bank of St. James and the names are listed in order of arrival and thereafter of admission through the gate to pick up their weekly parcel of groceries, the same as any number system you will find at a supermarket gastonomic stand.
While these people are waiting patiently for the gates to open at 10 am, in the undercroft the volunteers are preparing the bags of food, one type for the people who have a home ‘the kitchen bags’ and another for the homeless ‘the street bags’ .
A typical ‘kitchen bag’ will contain pasta, rice, beans, tomatoes and occasionally, butter, oil, cheese or coffee and sugar. It all depends on what is available that day.
The ‘street bag’ will be made up of food that does not require cooking, so crackers, biscuits, tuna fish, fruit juice, cheese and fresh fruit from the market.
Another group of volunteers will be preparing the clothes, which are all donated or left over from the monthly Thrift shop sale, and laying these out by gender, ‘Men’, ‘Women’ and ‘Children’ on the tables under the church porch so that once the food bag is given out then the clothes can be inspected and chosen by the people who need them.
Who are these people who come regularly to pick up the food and clothing from the St. James Food bank? Well, first there are the pensioners who are living on a pension so low that anything extra is very welcome ; the people in temporary difficulty who are finding it very hard to make ends meet through unemployment or low salaries ; the ever changing army of ‘extracomunitari’ who have come to Italy to make a better life for themselves and are very often stunned by the hardship they find here.
No questions are asked of the people who present themselves at the gates and there is a bag of food for everyone who wants it.
Much of the food is provided by the very excellent ‘Banco Alimentare’ the Italian national food bank, run on a volunteer basis – which collects, stores and redistributes a massive amount of foodstuff every year and the rest is bought by the Food Bank using the funds raised by the Thrift Shop at the church, or from other donations.
The number of people coming through the gate on Thursday morning varies, but come rain or shine we can have from 90 – 140 people.
The Food Bank cannot solve the problem of poverty and need but it can allieviate the feelings of discomfort in those less fortunate than us, a smile and a kind word together with the bag of food can help our ‘customer’ leave with a smile instead of the worried frown he or she arrived with.
Food Bank Volunteer, St. James