Banco Alimentare della Lombardia: “A meal for anyone who knocks on our door”

We find out how support from Barclays’ £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package helped a regional food bank in Italy to distribute nearly 100,000 meals each day – and brought crucial support to the epicentre of the pandemic.

When news first spread of a serious viral outbreak in the Northern Italian region of Lombardy, distressing images of overwhelmed hospitals were beamed around the world. From the town of Codogno to the city of Bergamo to the metropolis of Milan, the region had become one of the first European victims of COVID-19 – and nearly two years on, the pandemic’s impact is still being felt.

For Banco Alimentare della Lombardia, a food bank in Lombardy, the effects of COVID-19 have presented a huge challenge.

Financial hardship has spread throughout the region during the pandemic, and with an estimated 10% of Lombardy’s total population now living in poverty, Banco Alimentare has been working hard to continue bringing crucial support to one in every four people struggling to get by.

Need has continued to increase through community-wide closures and lockdown mandates. While the canteen-style facilities of Banco Alimentare’s partners shut and many of its 420 volunteers were forced to isolate, the food bank was faced with the daunting challenge of distributing nearly 100,000 meals each day to feed hungry people – and they needed help.

Luckily, a number of organisations were ready to offer their support. Among these was Barclays, whose £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package has so far backed more than 370 charity partners around the world to help those most impacted by the pandemic. During this time, Barclays’ support for Banco Alimentare has helped to ensure that thousands of people across the region don’t go hungry.

“Thanks to the important contribution from Barclays,” says Dario Boggio Marzet, Chairman of Banco Alimentare Lombardia, “we have been able to deliver more than 3.8 million meals to people who are struggling.”

With this, and additional support from local towns and the Italian Red Cross, Banco Alimentare was able to set up emergency supply chains as demand spread throughout Lombardy – ensuring that those depending on them continued to receive the food they needed. 

Carlo Cavallari and volunteer cook Maria Giovanna Condello preparing food in the kitchen

Barclays’ support has helped the Centro Sant’Antonio to continue distributing food to people in need.

Thanks to the important contribution from Barclays, we have been able to deliver more than 3.8 million meals to people who are struggling.

Dario Boggio Marzet

Chairman of Banco Alimentare Lombardia

Carlo Cavallari stands in a canteen-style dining hall.

Friar Carlo Cavallari of the Centro Sant’Antonio.

The impact of essential partnerships 

For every Euro donated, says Banco Alimentare, a “leverage effect” means that 19 people received a free meal through affiliated charitable efforts.

One such affiliate is the Centro Sant’Antonio dei Frati Minori (CSA), a community aid charity that offers resources to people in living poverty in a high-density district of Milan, Italy. “The CSA serves those at risk and living on the margins of society,” explains the organisation’s Friar Carlo Cavallari, “through the provision of food, health and hygiene, clothing and listening services.”

Speaking from nearly a decade of experience at the centre, Cavallari says the pandemic has presented a “delicate period” for the charity – and that Banco Alimentare has been “key to getting us through”. Under lockdown restrictions, the centre had to switch from providing a canteen service to takeaway and delivery distribution, he explains, while “the number of meals we needed to provide significantly increased”.

He explains that before the pandemic, the centre distributed about 90 meals each day; but as COVID-19 spread across the region, the hard-hit area reached a peak requirement of 175 meals per day. Responding to this increased need, Banco Alimentare estimates its services reached more than 230,000 people in Lombardy during 2020, with the support of over 1,100 charities.

“Being able to guarantee a decent and filling meal to everyone who knocks on our door brings us together on our mission,” says Cavallari. “During the pandemic, food provided by Banco Alimentare, along with other food donations, has helped us to support other charities distributing food in the same territory.”

Working tirelessly to combat hunger in its communities, Banco Alimentare incurred extra costs through the incorporation of health safeguards and antivirus protection across its headquarters and distribution centres – relying on support from corporate organisations like Barclays to overcome new obstacles.

Yet despite added challenges, the food bank’s work for those in need never stopped: “During the emergency and subsequent phases,” reflects Boggio Marzet, “our mission has always been the continued collection and distribution of food, and promotion of our core values: attention to others, solidarity, gratuity, charity and gift.”

“This period has forced us to be creative and cautious”

The food bank’s ongoing efforts have certainly not been in vain.

“Here at the Sant'Antonio Centre,” says Cavallari, “we meet people and cultivate relationships. We try to share this with the people who arrive at our table. With Banco Alimentare, we feel connected in this goal, which is unique, necessary and precious.”

Now, many months after emergency struck the Lombardy region, service organisations around the world have been able to resume some of their usual processes. In Centro Sant’Antonio’s case, for example, “We have been able to resume a canteen service with limited access, thanks to adjustments to our facility.”

Yet Cavallari believes the pandemic has reinforced the need for partnerships and networks working toward a common goal: “This period has forced us to be creative and cautious, in order to avoid wasting too many resources and energies at hand.

“I think it is important to nurture ongoing positive relationships, and to fine-tune our listening to emerging needs – with open dialogue, free communication and the courage to take risks in diverting resources where they are needed most. Day after day, I strongly believe in building a network that can be inclusive and willing to share the same goal of helping people in need.”

And the key to responding to experiences like the pandemic? “Gratitude,” says Cavallari.

“This is the word that synthesises what we are experiencing, gives us the joy and motivation to cope – and lets us understand this fragile period we are living in.”

Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package

Barclays has established a £100m COVID-19 Community Aid Package to support communities impacted by the social and economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It consists of two components: charitable donations to non-profit partners working in the communities where Barclays operates; and a commitment to match personal colleague donations to their chosen non-profits who are helping COVID-19 relief efforts in their communities.

Find out more about Barclays’ COVID-19 Community Aid Package.