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Progetto Arca’s food box distributions in Italy: “It is enough not to be ashamed to ask for help”

“The fridge started to empty; sometimes at dinner I prepared milk and chocolate for the children, an apple for me,” wrote Lisa, a 27-year-old beautician in Rome.

“I began to be afraid, I felt overwhelmed... the rent, the meals, the children's questions... in the evening, alone, I vented my discomfort with tears.”

Food insecurity has been one of many areas in which the pandemic simultaneously laid bare and exacerbated existing societal gaps. Even as pandemic restrictions ease in many places, not having enough to eat remains a fundamental part of the complex web of challenges people in poverty face, from lack of employment opportunity, to caring for children and elderly relatives, to the increasing cost of basic goods.

For Progetto Arca, a Milan-based nonprofit, helping address food insecurity can open the door first to a relationship of trust, then in the longer-term to stability and autonomy. Food forms a connection, and the nonprofit team can expand it to help guide a parent into a stable source of income, as it did in encouraging one woman in Turin to land an apprenticeship at a tailor in August 2021.

But the first step is making that connection—an experience that can be nerve-wracking.

“Then I heard about Progetto Arca,” Lisa went on. “I called and a woman answered, welcoming and reassuring. The operators put me in the project to receive food packages every month. A real relief when that white box arrived with the words ‘Progetto ARCA, First aid, always’: a box full of every good thing. Sometimes we also found special things, like when we found a slice of Parmesan—how good!!! Or when the children found the chocolate snacks—it didn't seem real!”

As part of its global covid-19 relief initiative, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) supported Progetto Arca in supplying essentials, including food boxes, from Turin in the North of Italy to Catanzaro in the South and in a number of cities in between. In 2021, the nonprofit reached between 1,600 and 1,800 families each month with fresh and nonperishable food, from tofu to pineapple to fresh pasta.

Learn more about SNF’s work to help neighbors feed neighbors during the pandemic through organizations like Progetto Arca.

Progetto Arca has also helped provide baby food, games and school supplies, and monthly consultations to the families of a thousand children and has delivered hot meals to hundreds of people on the streets of Milan and Naples each week through a food truck service.

Though the pandemic has not changed the fact that food insecurity remains distressingly widespread, Progetto Arca has seen reason for hope that it may have triggered a shift in attitudes that lowers the barriers to people getting the support they need.

“I cried—I'm not ashamed to say it—I cried because I was afraid,” said one food box program participant in Rome, “but then I realized that it is enough not to be ashamed to ask for help, that this pandemic has put us all on the same level.”