In Southern Italy, Charity Is Now A Major Means Of Sustenance

Apr 7, 2020
Originally published on April 7, 2020 9:00 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

No country has suffered more deaths from the coronavirus than Italy - 16,000 people. Life has come to a standstill. Italy's economy has been in near shutdown for weeks now. The country's south has had fewer deaths than the north, but with high poverty and unemployment, a lot of people in that region are depending on charity. Here's NPR's Sylvia Poggioli.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Naples is synonymous with bustling crowds and lots of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PINA ANDELORA AND ANGELO PICONE: (Singing in non-English language).

POGGIOLI: This is Pina Andelora and her partner Angelo Picone, street musicians performing in times past in Spaccanapoli, the heart of Naples. In lockdown, the city is now a ghost town. But the two artists, who are also activists, realized that with soup kitchens closed, they could be useful even at home, preparing meals for the homeless.

ANGELO PICONE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "But we realize there's the issue of safety and social distance," Angelo says, "so we relied on an old Neapolitan custom - lowering food baskets from our balcony." As has been done for centuries, from their windows, housewives - busy looking after children - lower a rope attached to a basket with money inside. On the street, in exchange, the baker, fishmonger or butcher places wares in the basket that's then hoisted up.

The couple were inspired by a doctor who lived a century ago. He cared for the poor for free and later became St. Giuseppe Moscati. They put a card on their baskets with the doctor's slogan - those who can, put something in; those who can't, help yourself.

PICONE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "The card triggered an explosion of solidarity," says Angelo. "People out shopping for groceries now stop by our baskets and leave something inside - pasta, sugar, coffee and cans of tuna. Now," he adds, "we put together food packages for our homeless friends." Photographs and a video of homeless people retrieving packages from the solidarity baskets appeared in the Italian media. They evoked the seven acts of mercy, as depicted in a painting by the 17th century master Caravaggio that just happens to hang in a nearby church - a case of life imitating art.

The baskets also prompted help from far away. A cheese producer in Emilia-Romagna contacted the good Samaritan couple and promised them a shipment of Parmesan cheese. Angelo hopes the solidarity baskets will inspire further acts of charity.

PICONE: (Speaking Italian).

POGGIOLI: "This crisis will be long. Artists like us have to pay rent and bills," says Angelo, "and many people depend on our assistance. We're street performers who lived on tourism." Who knows, Angela wonders, when city streets will be bustling with people, and he and Pina will once again entertain tourists and residents alike with the songs of Naples.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANDELORA AND PICONE: (Singing in non-English language).

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ANDELORA AND PICONE: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.