CONTAGION OF HOPE

THROUGH CONTAGION OF HOPE, DIFFERENT FAITHS UNITED IN THE NAME OF SOLIDARITY.
4 MILLION DOLLARS FROM THE US GOVERNMENT TO ADDRESS THE HEALTH AND SOCIAL CRISIS CREATED BY THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC IN LOMBARDY.
APPROXIMATELY 56,000 MEALS IN SOUP KITCHENS. 733 SANITIZED AND SPECIFICALLY EQUIPPED ANTI-COVID PROTECTED FACILITIES FOR PATIENTS, DOCTORS AND NURSES.
A UNITED EFFORT THAT INVOLVED CATHOLIC, ISLAMIC AND WALDESIAN ORGANIZATIONS


In seven months, the “Contagion of Hope” project, supported by the U.S. Government through the U.S. Agency for International Development, welcomed 482 homeless people, provided showers to 11,998 to those without access to bathing facilities, distributed 55,954 meals in soup kitchens, 29,249 food packs and 11,642 personal hygiene kits. It financed cards used by families facing hardship so that they could do their shopping at the Empori della Solidarietà [Solidarity Stores] for a total of 120,000 euros and at supermarkets for a further 328,300 euros. It also made it possible to sanitize 733 facilities including day centers and offices and to adapt 7 temporary shelters and 10 alternative centers dedicated to the quarantine of patients, doctors and nurses to health regulations.

Created to respond to the health emergency caused by the spread of the Coronavirus in Lombardy and to tackle the social consequences of the long period of isolation necessary to contain the pandemic, the aid program started in May and concluded at the end of November, thanks to 4 million dollars of funding provided by the United States through USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the contribution of an additional 130 thousand dollars from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) private funds. The resources collected were allocated to a network of religious charities of different beliefs and denominations: the Caritas of five Lombard dioceses (Milan, Bergamo, Brescia, Lodi and Cremona), Opera San Francesco per i Poveri, Diaconia Valdese and Islamic Relief.
The intervention, under the direction of CRS (Catholic Relief Services) and Caritas Ambrosiana, addressed both the immediate health needs and secondary social impacts of the pandemic, providing immediate essential services to groups and individuals at risk while also supporting hospitals by providing emergency accommodation for COVID-19 patients and medical staff.  In addition, the project responded to the increasing need of families who saw a dramatic reduction in their incomes due to the lockdown as well as the elderly through targeted food distribution.

USAID Assistant Administrator Brock Bierman emphasized the U.S. Government’s continued commitment to Italy stating, “USAID is proud to support Italy, which was one of the first European countries to experience the devastating impacts of the pandemic.  As a part of our support to Italy, we will continue to partner with organizations across the country to provide aid to those in need and to support Italy’s recovery.”

 “The United States, through a USAID grant, is proud to have partnered with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Caritas Ambrosiana on “Contagion of Hope.”  This successful project addressed both the immediate health needs and secondary social impacts of the pandemic, helping communities in Lombardy, Italy, most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Callista L. Gingrich, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.  She added, “Faith-based organizations like CRS and Caritas serve as lifelines to communities experiencing unprecedented hardships around the world.  This project brought together Christian and Islamic organizations to provide essential services, demonstrating the power of interfaith collaboration.  Working together, with hope and determination, we can confront and overcome COVID-19.”

«We are delighted with the work carried out here. The strength of the project is in the involvement and decades of experience of the partners in the country, in the highly articulated services and in an army of volunteers and employees who work to very high professional standards. I believe that the project represents the realization of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” (“All Brothers”). It’s good to see Christians helping Muslims and vice versa. A few years ago, this was our wish for the future. Today, I’m happy to say that this is our present: All Brothers!» underlined Davide Bernocchi, CRS Partneship Advisor for the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia.

«At the heart of the project are people facing hardship who have every right to reclaim their dignity or not to lose it. What matters is putting the poor front and center, because it works a bit like a litmus test of our faith. The project gave us the opportunity to put our knowledge of how to modulate our services to deal with emerging new needs into practice. Our interreligious collaboration sent a message and we gave a practical demonstration of the results of the work carried out together, even between different faiths,» declared Luciano Gualzetti, director of Caritas Ambrosiana.

Alaa Salem of Islamic Relief: «In a moment of crisis, what matters is putting the needy at the front and center. Through the collaboration that was established, the project helped us to create a more solid presence in Italy and allowed us to imagine a future in which we can be more present for vulnerable people in our country».

Loretta Malan of Diaconia Valdese: «The project was a concrete help carried out during a moment of great hardship. It’s a wonderful testimony to putting people's needs in before all other things, joining forces in synergy».

Giovanni Carrara, chairperson of Consorzio Farsi Prossimo: "Eight of our cooperatives, in the area of the Diocese of Milan, were involved in this wide-ranging project, which enabled us to support thousands of people whose fragile circumstances was made even more difficult by the pandemic. From showers to the delivery of meals, from sanitation interventions to laundry, our system deployed different skills, also learning to use complex project monitoring and verification tools».

Giorgio Gualzetti, director of Fondazione San Carlo, which manages boarding houses for workers, social apartments and promotes professional training courses in the Diocese of Milan: «The Foundation was able to experiment new ways to meet and being close to people. The gratitude that the beneficiaries showed towards us has convinced us to continue with even greater determination. We hope to be able to continue collaborating with the entities involved in the project in the future to respond to needs in an increasingly effective manner».

Friar Marcello Longhi, chairperson of Opera San Francesco per i poveri (OSF): «This shared experience allowed us to feel part of a great movement of hope that was given to those living in hardship. Together, we gave them a moment’s relief during an extremely complex period in which the poor found themselves facing even more hardship. It was an important experience for OSF because its work as part of an organized aid network made even more sense and had even more value and effectiveness».

Father Roberto Trussardi, director of Caritas of the Diocese of Bergamo: «The project helped us to adopt a new method of working that, despite the many difficulties, produced important results».

Father Maurizio Rinaldi, director of Caritas Diocesana of Brescia: «Aware that ensuring the health of homeless people and the most fragile people means ensuring the health of the whole community, the support of Contagion of Hope allowed us not to retreat from the margins, but, on the contrary, to experiment with new forms of hospitality for the homeless and to support people and families without enough food. The experience of the night reception service, which was transformed into a multipurpose facility that was also open during the day and which will continue to remain unaltered next year, was emblematic».

Father Pier Luigi Codazzi, director of Caritas of the Diocese of Cremona: «The project made it possible to implement and make the interventions in favor of individuals and families in situations of grave hardship more effective. The support provided for the accommodation of doctors and nurses working in Cremonese hospitals helped them to perform their difficult mission to care for patients, a mission for which they voluntarily came from all over Italy to an area that was badly affected by the virus, especially last spring».

Carlo Bosatra, director of Caritas of the Diocese of Lodi: «These months have shown that when we manage to network, our response to need is more incisive».

How "The Contagion of Hope" worked
On the health front, the project made it possible to provide safe shelters, meals, room cleaning and other services to patients on the road to recovery. Dormitories and hotel rooms were also made available to doctors and nurses near the hospitals where they operate to allow them to rest between shifts, thereby reducing exposure to the virus for them and their families. In particular, doing so allowed hospitals to free up beds for new patients during the most acute phase of the infection and, in general, to improve their responsiveness.
On the social front, the program helped partners to adopt standard anti-COVID health measures at 17 of the reception facilities that they manage. The measures range from readying rooms in which symptomatic subjects can self-isolate to disinfecting common areas, from providing laundry services to daily health checks for those staying there. It was therefore possible to continue keeping dormitories and reception centers open even during the period in which the virus was circulating more widely among the population. This allowed the provision of essential services to the homeless and the weakest people, who were also the most exposed to the infection, to continue, safeguarding their health, as well as the health of the operators and the volunteers taking care of them.

In addition, the intervention implemented food aid distribution services, responding to the increase in the number of requests from families who saw a dramatic reduction in their incomes precisely because of the lockdown. More specifically, all the different forms of food support in the country were bolstered: from the provision of meals in canteens to home delivery of food packages for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled, up to the distribution of vouchers for the purchase of essential foodstuffs at sales points and stores.

Italian Version

Photo by: Tiberio Mavrici
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