It all started with a coffee.
When a homeless man asked Dino Impagliazzo for an espresso, the Italian pensioner thought: “Why not help?”
Soon he and his wife were making sandwiches for homeless people who hung around one of Rome’s train stations.
As word spread, the lines for food grew longer. Eventually Impagliazzo switched to hot meals, cooking them first at home and later using the kitchen of a nearby church.
“The nuns had a large pot that came in handy,” he recalled.
A decade on, the 86-year-old prepares hot meals for up to 250 migrants and needy people in Rome four days a week, using a tiny fraction of the 1.3 billion tonnes of food waste that the world generates each year.
“There is no shortage of food,” said the former civil servant, a devout Catholic who credits his faith for driving him to help the poor.
“People in need are my brothers, I can’t just turn the other way,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since 2008, Impagliazzo’s charity, RomAmor, has prepared all its meals using ingredients that are close to their expiry dates, sourced from grocery shops and wholesale suppliers who would otherwise throw them away.
Bin to plate
The charity is one of a growing number of enterprises that rescues food destined for the bin to nourish those in need — a global trend some experts say may be the answer to the mountains of food waste created daily.
“We collect so much stuff that we are even able to help other charities,” said Impagliazzo, standing in front of boxes of fruit and vegetables outside the charity’s kitchen.
Food that goes uneaten in Europe could feed a quarter of the 800 million people worldwide who go to bed hungry every night, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says.
On Jan. 24, European Union lawmakers urged all member states to take action to halve the estimated 88 million tonnes of food wasted across the bloc annually.
Halving the amount of food that is discarded by shops and consumers by 2030 is one of the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by UN member states in 2015.
Impagliazzo’s first supplier was a baker, Carlo Nicoletti, who grew curious about a pensioner buying up to 20 loaves a day.
When he found out Impagliazzo was making sandwiches for the homeless, Nicoletti offered to give away unsold bread for free at the end of the day.
“I went on to involve other shop owners from the area,” said Nicoletti, one of about 300 volunteers working with RomAmor.
Meals always include a pork-free option to accommodate people of all creeds and consist of a sandwich, a plate of rice, pasta or soup, and fruit or dessert, depending on availability.
Impagliazzo said the charity receives food from dozens of stores and the number is growing after a new law opened the way for lower taxes on shops that donate leftovers.
Food for thought
Impagliazzo is keen that, besides filling empty bellies, his work can improve relations between locals and migrants.
Rome, like the rest of Italy has seen a growing influx of migrants in recent years, bringing with it high tensions.
A record 181,000 people, mostly from Africa, reached the country via boat last year alone, government figures show.
Lazio, the region where Rome is located, hosts almost 15,000 of the more than 175,000 asylum seekers living in Italian shelters, up from 8,000 in December 2015.
“It’s not only about feeding people, but also about getting to know them and trying to help,” Impagliazzo said.
The energetic pensioner oversees all of his charity’s work — he dispatches volunteers, collects food and chops vegetables.
On Jan. 23, he braved a cold, wet night to deliver food to about 100 people gathered outside the Ostiense train station.
Among the volunteers helping him was Karim Karwan, a 26-year-old Iraqi Kurd, who just days earlier had himself stood in line for a bowl of soup.
The young man said he decided to lend a hand after going with no food and little water for eight days during the sea crossing from Turkey that last year brought him to Italy.
“I understand what it means to be hungry,” said Karwan, adding that volunteering made him feel useful as he waited for his asylum application to be processed.
Impagliazzo said by working in the charity kitchen, Karwan was also learning skills he could use in the future.
He related how a homeless Italian man who had learned to cook at RomAmor had recently landed a job at a high-end hotel.
Impagliazzo said he was open to anyone willing to be of service and was currently helping a Ukrainian man who had had several run-ins with police to complete his community service.
“I’d like Rome to become a more humane city,” he said.