Between February and April, a group of students from Bocconi University had the chance to volunteer at the Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan, a project created in 2015 to fight food waste through social inclusion.
The students came mainly from the Bocconi Students Food Association (Bfood), an organisation that aims to introduce university students to the food industry by organising gastronomic events, conferences, and through the production and publication of articles on nutrition and food security.
Despite their regular involvement in activities and events around food and sustainability, the group felt that their gastronomic journey lacked an experience that would help them to concretely contribute to their community’s empowerment. Hence the idea, with another group of Bocconi students, the Students for Humanity, to contact Food for Soul and Caritas Ambrosiana to participate in a volunteer experience at the Refettorio Ambrosiano.
In the three months of volunteering, the students served meals, interacted with the guests, and helped the regular volunteers setting up the the dining room for the service. Even though this wasn’t their first time volunteering, the experience at the Refettorio touched them profoundly. The interactions with the guests, their smiles and their stories, inspired the group and enriched their experience.
At the end of the last service, students were asked to describe their three months at the Refettorio in one word. “Emotional”, “Human” and “Stimulating” were the words most used to describe their experience and many said they felt fulfilled thanks to the cheerful and reassuring environment that the Refettorio staff had managed to create.
This experience, and the work that the Refettorio Ambrosiano has been doing since 2015, shows that food can be a valuable tool for social inclusion and that sharing a meal with others has often the power to break down walls and barriers, improving human relationships and creating inclusive communities.