It is a great pleasure for me, as Mayor of Padua, a city nominated as the 2020 European Capital of Volunteering, to participate to this praiseworthy outreach campaign launched by the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative. We live in very difficult times and I must confess that I never thought, as Mayor, that I would have to face such an emergency in my city and among my citizens. Luckily, the city of Padua has got solidarity in its DNA: there are more than 6,500 volunteering associations in the city and in the region that operate in all fields, from healthcare to social services and from culture to sport. Their help in the management of the emergency has been fundamental.
We have immediately set an objective: to the best of our ability, no one was to be left behind. The main focus had to be on the most vulnerable, the elderly, but also on those who have lost their jobs and were not receiving the lay-off benefits (“Cassa integrazione”) because of bureaucratic delays. In just three days, once the government had issued the funds, we started to distribute shopping vouchers for a total value of 1 million euros so that hundreds of families did not have to worry about getting food. But thanks to this extraordinary solidarity network, we did even more. With the Volunteering Centre , the Caritas Diocesan and the support of Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio, we launched – in record time – the project “Per Padova, noi ci siamo” (“We Are There for Padua”), which has been supporting people and spreading solidarity in many ways.
This project, launched on March 14, was one of the first ones to be set up in Italy. It has created a network between the associations, public services, Caritas services and local private companies. It has set in motion and promoted “friendly phone calls” for the elderly people who live alone, home deliveries of essential goods and a housing initiative for homeless people. Most importantly, it has managed the coordination of volunteers.
On top of that, we were faced with the need to help the students who could not cope with the new online education mode due to the lack of laptops and appropriate internet connection, because of disabilities preventing them from learning effectively during the classes taught remotely or because of reasons of educational poverty within the family or in their life environment.
The volunteers, appropriately trained and equipped with all the necessary sanitary devices, were divided between neighborhoods so as to respond readily and effectively to the expressed needs. In the second phase of the emergency, after May 4, the project continued. The volunteers who agreed to continue their service have also been engaged in the reopening and the surveillance of the 32 public parks of the Municipality of Padua.
As the shopping vouchers ran out, the supply of essential goods was ensured thanks to the solidarity of the citizens donating food to charity in 69 shops across the city. To meet the needs of the kids and of the students – and to guarantee support to the families where parents had started to work again – we are looking for spaces for summer centers and for resuming classes, relying on associations, parishes and cooperatives thanks to the coordination of the education department.
The proceedings from the fundraising, which will continue until the end of June, go mainly to supporting expenses for food, medications and personal protective equipment like masks and gloves; to covering accommodation expenses for the homeless and to purchasing computer equipment for the youth and the families experiencing economic and social difficulties.
All this was made possible thanks to the humanity and compassion of many citizens. It is an extraordinary experience because of the uniqueness of the moment we are living in and because of the beauty and the remarkable example of solidarity that we are witnessing in the city. This will last as a precious legacy once this emergency is over.
I believe that if we reflect on the future, now that we have entered the “second phase” approaching a new normality, we shall understand that nothing will ever be the same. What has been happening leads us to design a different economic and social organization that we hope will be based on increased equality of rights and opportunities for the people. We will also need to pay more attention to the only Mother Earth we have, resetting the priorities of the economy that had been focusing on profits at all costs.
If this happens, and it naturally depends also on each and every one of us, we could say that this terrible pandemic has not only marked a moment of sorrow and fear, but has also been an opportunity to focus on the true values of solidarity and social justice.