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Torino: From food to demands

“Neighborhood solidarity cannot compensate the absence of the State: a response from the local administration is needed”

By Caterina Del Bello, Alessandra Periccioli and Maria Vasile

This blog post narrates about one of the grassroots and self-organized food aid initiative that developed in Turin during the COVID-19 emergency: the Rete Aurora Solidale (Aurora Solidarity Network - Aurora is a neighbourhood in north Turin - ). Since the start of the Italian lockdown on March 10 2020, many families had to face increasing economic difficulties due to lack of income or access to institutional support. Municipal interventions to tackle food insecurity were limited (and strongly reliant on third sector organizations) and left behind many people in need. Networks of grassroots movements, collectives and committees developed to respond to the demands that remained unheard and are now pursuing their intervention by giving visibility to these and forwarding political demands. The post is a translation of an article originally publishes on Pop off quotidiano on May 19 2020: 

A protest to ask for adequate institutional support

“We don’t want your charity, we ask for income support and accessible social policies”: this is one of the messages written on the boxes – empty but full of demands – brought in front of the Circoscrizione 7 (local administration office) in Turin on May 15. More than 50 activists and families compose the network Zona Aurora Solidale who has developed a self-organized initiative of Spesa Sospesa (pending shopping1 ) met to remind the institution of its obligations. “Unpreparedness and insufficiency of the measures put in place, lack of awareness and information about the people that are poor or at risk of poverty, partial and contradictory interventions”: these are the shortcomings of the municipal administration according to the demonstrators.

Together with the activists, families were present to speak out their difficulties, which are exemplary of the conditions of many other people in the city. People who cannot afford to buy food to pay their rent, families with children who cannot participate in online didactical activities because they lack the means or linguistic support, people whose reddito di cittadinanza (basic income) has been reduced – to be substituted with other measures such as bonuses, which have not yet been distributed -, others who are still waiting for the cassa integrazione (unemployment benefits). Many of the people present are among the ones who, in April, asked for the buoni spesa (shopping vouchers), developed by the municipality thanks to central government funds, without managing to obtain them. In Turin, around 8 thousand families who asked for such aid remained unsupported as the vouchers exhausted a day after the application process started.

Food insecurity and poverty increase in Turin

The situation of many people who already were in a condition of social and economic hardship is therefore worsening, but the administration fails to put in place structural support measures. Besides shopping vouchers, the municipal attempt to guarantee the primary needs of citizens has been minimal: it was limited to the endorsement of the network Torino Solidale (Turin in solidarity) formed by a series of hubs, where food boxes are prepared and distributed to families in need. This network is based on the work of associations and big donors such as the Banco Alimentare. Because of the limited public resources provided, such food aid does not support everyone who needs it. In this way, the intervention remains a form of marginal assistance, largely based on voluntary work and which responsibility is left entirely to the associations which are managing the hubs. At one of the hubs in North Turin, for example, since a few weeks the official food donations are reduced and arriving with delay: that is why the cooperative launched a fundraising campaign, attempting to find alternatives – and, we argue, fill the gaps left by the public administration – thanks to the direct support of other citizens. The contribution of big private economic players such as Compagnia di San Paolo was also limited: only 240 thousand euros devolved to respond to primary needs of people in situation of insecurity, as part of a total of a 13.5 millions intervention.

The response of the administration

Some of the people facing such situations of hardship and getting no official support founded the 'spesa sospesa' initiative forwarded by the committees and collectives that compose the network Zona Aurora Solidale, or similar solidarity networks developed in other neighbourhoods of the city. All of them, as stated during the protest, insist on the importance of public responses from the city administration, whose present position is revealing precise political choices. The reaction of the president of Circoscrizione 7 Luca Deri was quite surprising as he proposed (during an interview to the newspaper La Stampa) to “distribute 900 vouchers left over [from April]”, as of today, never distributed despite the many cases of people in need in the area. The only other solution he advanced was to restart as soon as possible the two big regeneration projects and building sites in the area.

“The resources to intervene exist – replied Zona Aurora Solidale – but it is up to the administrators to decide how to allocate these. We believe that there is nothing more urgent than the protection of the people and the territory in which we live. But poverty does not seem to be seen as a relevant issue if not in relation to issues of public order”. In fact, since a few weeks the largest public intervention in the neighbourhoods of Aurora and Barriera di Milano was the establishment of permanent police and military garrisons. This decision was explained by the mayor as a necessity to demonstrate the presence of the State even in the more “complicated” areas. As underlined by the activists: “in the last years, regardless of the political colour of the administration, the decisions taken were very clear: privatisation and centralisation of healthcare, the dismantlement of the local services in our neighbourhoods, disinvestments in schooling and education, freezing of the assignment of social housing”. The State, apparently, prefers to invest in the imposition of order and control. 

While different administrative levels are involved in such processes, their cumulative effects are readable in the local discourse about the area and its desirable transformation, often centred around the need for more security and urban regeneration. These reasonings seem to be leaving behind key elements (and drivers of contemporary tensions in the area) such as the importance of employment, adequate income, social protection and related public responsibility in these domains to ensure that no one is left behind.

Today, the network Zona Aurora Solidale continues advancing political requests and organizes weekly food distributions in the public park in front of the local administration office. Local families are invited to come and discuss their needs publicly and collectively. So far, no communication line was granted by the Circoscrizione nor many larger responses are being implemented by the central government yet. More generally, every day in Turin protests and sit-in are being held in front of different administrative offices, including the municipality and the regional authority (based on the nature of the claims). 

  1The expression derives from the term caffè sospeso (suspended coffee) or ‘pending coffee’, which is a cup of coffee paid for in advance for any following customer who might need it, as an anonymous act of charity.
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