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The world stopped. They didn’t

Giancarlo Grassi

Homeless outreach executive
Rotary Club of Palermo Teatro del Sole, Italy

I am the president of a nonprofit that serves homeless and impoverished people in the city. It was started by Rotary clubs in the Palermo area. We prepare and distribute meals, collect clothes and other necessities, and provide showers using a traveling van equipped with running water. None of that has changed. What has changed is that we’re serving more people because of the coronavirus.

“We have a network of about 80 Rotarians who volunteer, plus 50 people who are not Rotarians. Lately this number has increased.”

We used to serve 25 to 30 families each week. Now it’s 100, totaling around 300 people. Many of these people had been making money by doing under-the-table work, which they lost because of the lockdown restrictions. So our predicament is not only figuring out the logistics of serving people through the lockdown, but also dealing with an increased number of people in need.

Some of the new families we serve are in their homes, so instead of cooking meals for them, Rotarians on motorbikes deliver food to them. We’re also working with the city government to help people fill out the forms to receive food vouchers. People can’t go to city hall to do this like they used to, but we are able to reach them.

Once volunteers began showing up with masks and gloves, the people we serve understood the situation was serious. They used to hug us to show their appreciation. Now they can’t. Nobody involved in the project that we know of has been infected with the coronavirus — no volunteers and none of our 80 homeless beneficiaries. The precautionary measures we have taken are working.

Every time we get together to serve, I’m probably there. When we’re handing out clothes and supplies, I’m there. When we’re going around with the mobile shower van, I’m there. When we’re organizing to get all the food onto motorbikes to be delivered, I’m there. But I’m not on my own: We have a network of about 80 Rotarians who volunteer, plus 50 people who are not Rotarians. Lately this number has increased. People are calling to ask if we need any help. There are usually three guys who go around delivering food on motorcycles. Today there were 10. People want to help.

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• This story originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.