Food truck for the homeless arrives at the Vatican

A food truck for the homeless has arrived at the Vatican, where volunteers will distribute warm meals to those who live on the streets around St. Peter’s Basilica.

The initiative, inaugurated on Feb. 17, is part of the non-profit Progetto Arca (Project Ark), which brought the mobile kitchen to Rome after it was successfully introduced in three other Italian cities.

Alberto Sinigallia, Progetto Arca’s president, told CNA’s Italian partner ACI Stampa: “We are here with the mobile kitchen, a food truck with a stove, oven, and tea kettles on board, which will distribute 450 hot meals every week.”

During the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, many soup kitchens in Italy had to close or had to limit their capacity.

“We realized during the pandemic that there were people who hadn’t eaten for four days,” Sinigallia said. “For us, this is a place of dignity, here they can choose their first course, second course, dessert, and even breakfast the next day. It’s like being at the coffee bar. They feel pampered.”

According to Italy’s most recent statistics, the country had at least 51,000 homeless nationwide, 23% of whom live in Rome, in 2014. These estimates are considered conservative because they counted only those who sought help at shelters or meal programs.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused poverty to rise in Italy. The Catholic diocesan charity Caritas said in 2020 it had seen the number of people seeking help at its meal programs and shelters rise by 114%.

Around the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square, a large number of people can be seen sleeping on the streets or under the edge of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s colonnade.

In recent years, the Vatican’s almoner has opened bathrooms and showers for those living in the area. A night shelter was opened in a building nearby, and on a regular basis, volunteers distribute sandwiches and fruit to the hungry.

The Progetto Arca food truck will be in the Vatican area for four evenings a week to distribute a hot dinner and breakfast.

The group also plans to provide meals in a northern suburb of Rome where it has a house and “micro-community,” which helps men in need get back on their feet.

Michela Ottavi, the head of Progetto Arca in Rome, told ACI Stampa that the group’s philosophy is “to immediately give the dignity of a home to the homeless, to allow this direct transition, a home. Then there is a path of re-insertion [into society], but first, I repeat, a home.”

After bringing the food truck to three northern cities and Rome, the non-profit plans to continue to move south, also bringing a food truck to Naples.