Sharing is caring
By Volunteer, Sangita Dubey
Do you struggle to know how to respond when you see people on the street, asking for money? For me, it creates an inner conflict. Especially if I have just been out for a meal, or spent money on a ton of groceries for a dinner party.
Do you, like me, wonder if you gave money, whether it would go on food and shelter? Or would it be spent on alcohol or drugs? Or worse, support underworld crime?
This has been a long-time dilemma for me, whether in my home country, Canada, or in India, my birth country; or Italy, the country I adopted 3 years ago.
A friend once said to a homeless person in an abusive manner, “get a job.” How, exactly? He doesn’t have an address? From then on, I learnt that a smile and “sorry” were far better than abuse or avoiding eye contact, as if the person was invisible.
But it doesn’t help that uncomfortable feeling in my chest when I know that so many have so little, while I have so much that I can afford to throw away left-over food.
Enter Italy. I started buying extra groceries for the Portuguese man outside the grocery store near my house. And I would make an extra Panini for the Romani who I passed on my route to work. It helped a bit, but didn’t get rid of that tightness in my chest.
Why? Because I know that when we see people on the street asking for money they are only the tip of the ice-berg. Others might appear at soup kitchens and bread lines, but not all. And it’s all very well buying a man groceries once in a while, but it does not get him back his feet and into a position where he can start to meet his own needs.
I work for the Statistics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization, where our statistics estimate that in 2016, about 800 million people were undernourished. We recently launched a new programme called Voices of the Hungry to collect global statistics on food insecurity. We asked people if, in the last year, due to lack of money or other resources, they had been concerned about not having enough food, or insufficient nutritious and healthy food, and if they had to skip a meal, go hungry, or had run out of food. The data from this new programme are still being analyzed, but serve as a constant reminder when my leftovers spoil, that there are others going hungry.
Enter Project Rome.
Three months ago I met an English lady called Mary Stuart-Miller, by chance. I offered to cook a meal for the group that her organization, Project Rome, takes food to on Sunday evenings. It was in part to find a way to share what I have, and in part, to indulge in my love of cooking. The first time I cooked, in September, I prepared an Indian meal of Chicken Biryana (Basmati rice with spiced chicken cooked in yoghurt) and spinach.
In November I cooked a Thanksgiving-type meal of roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, coleslaw with pomegranite seeds, and apple pie. One of the men who sleeps overnight in the church in the square that we set up our tables in requested I cook lasagna, so in December, I returned once again, this time with beef lasagna, pasta primavera and panettone.
I look forward to these times. There is a magic in sharing a meal. These healthy, balanced nutritious meals for 30 to 40 people cost no more than I would spend if I invited less than half that number to my home and provided food and wine.
My inner desire to please my guests, for them to enjoy what I prepare, for me to know that they have eaten well and nutritiously, means I need, and gain, something from them too. And when that appreciation comes – almost always with requests for second or third helpings – it creates an equality between me and my guest.
Project Rome has given me the chance to get to know my guests. I am staring to recognize their faces and learn their names. We share a few words, sometimes in English, but more often in my limited Italian. And now when I arrive, I am greeted with warm hugs, and I leave with inner warmth, and more hugs.
The December meal was my last shared meal for 2016 before I return to Canada for the festive holiday We celebrated the year, and `missed birthdays’, by handing around tea-lights, and singing a collective “Happy Birthday to Us” (followed by “Buon compleanno a Noi”). A special moment for all the birthdays we had missed celebrating together in 2016. Then these lovely men and women made a wish, and blew out their candle.
As wished each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and I left for home to plan and dream about the meals I might make and share with them in 2017, and how much I look forward to getting to know them better.
Sharing food with those living without homes in Rome, or in extreme poverty, is not about charity, it is about sharing, and caring. And when I cook and share the meals I have made, there is no tightness in my chest. There is no better Christmas present for me, and it comes from Mary. Project Rome and the men and women throughout Rome who have felt the kindness and compassion that this unique organization inspires. My heart-felt thank you!