Food for thought

In my life so far, working has meant a lot of time behind a computer screen, researching, writing, creating – as those were my qualifications, and my job demanded just that. I loved it completely – I felt competent, I could solve most problems which came my way, and I imagined that was the future too. I was working for good causes, even from afar, being efficient, drafting reports and finding ways for improvement. While I know that gave me great fulfillment, I can’t help but think that there was something missing, something that pushed me to volunteering – which is how I found myself in BiR. Maybe something is missing from your life as well, and this could be a good practice of sorts.

Something specific, which changed when I came to BiR was the direct contact with a great number of people. Upon coming here, the first project I joined (which I still can’t quite imagine could work this well anywhere else) is Recup, in which we (volunteers) go to the daily pop-up markets in Milano as they are about to close, and we ask the vendors to donate any food, which might be on its way to going bad and which they believe they will not be able to sell, for the disadvantaged. We collect that food and redistribute it, mostly through setting shop of our own in the market, and sometimes by giving what is ultimately left to a food bank.


What fascinates me about the markets, and about Recup as an idea, is how willing people are to participate in this endeavor – and especially how many vendors reach out to us! How open they are to directly help with whatever they can, and how useful that is to the people who come to take some of the produce we’ve collected.

What is important in Recup, I think, is the humanity of it, the relationships and the connections we make, the smiles and the genuine desire to be of any use, be that with a couple of tangerines or with a box full of good bananas, with the end result being the feeling of immense satisfaction, usefulness to the community and a tangible contribution. While the result is quick to see, it is also as fleeting as the expiration dates of the donated food, which makes the activity in a way, bitter-sweet – the people will still have daily issues with getting food, but we have helped at least a little.

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This work – on the field, fleeting, directly useful, is something which gives a completely different satisfaction. And since it is so easy on time-consumption – we don’t spend more than 2 hours a day doing it, I think it is also an activity, which more people could potentially start to work on in different places. After all, it is a good idea to get away from the routine and what we know we are good at, and reach out a hand to see how togetherness and empathy could improve people’s lives directly. The volunteers in Recup here are a very mixed crowd as well – some are unemployed, some are refugees, and some are taking time away from their studies or even their work to come for a bit.

I wonder how many activities, such as Recup, could also be incorporated almost seamlessly in our every-day lives. Even in a country unlike Italy (where the culture of volunteering is really well-developed), for example my home-country of Bulgaria, this could be a fairly easy way to jump-start it – having activities, which visibly help, while they demand just some time and the sense of community.


While working and excelling in our own fields, maybe we should also think about how we can complement that usefulness with these small acts of humanity, and improve both our own lives, and other people’s – if not with food specifically, then in the many other different ways others have thought of to create. Any ideas?


Raya, volunteer with BiR