The right place

Thanks to Karin and the beautiful stories she told us, we were able to peak behind the doors of the Social Tables Antoniano in Bologna to see what it really means to be a volunteer.

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A few weeks ago, we were introduced to Karin, volunteer at the Social Tables Antoniano since October 2017. When we asked her what makes the project in Bologna so special, she told us that besides the strong, personal bond between the people who work there, and the festive atmosphere that the children help to build – it is the families who have really managed to turn the  space into a shelter not only for the body, but for the soul. Coming from other experiences as a volunteer, Karin is now the project’s volunteer coordinator at the Social Tables Antoniano, helping to manage volunteers both in the kitchen and in the dining room. 

“I found out that helping others is the one thing that gives me a sense of satisfaction,” said Karin when we asked her what has motivated her to show up every Monday night for the past two years.  

What differentiates the Social Tables Antoniano from the other projects?

The project of Bologna is a little gem: it is a protected environment where families with children can meet other people, other families, children can play with other children. It’s about social inclusion and hospitality, it’s several small worlds coming together. These are people who cannot afford to eat out, so our job is to care for them, both through food and by giving them attentions.  

 Have volunteers changed their way of approaching food and food surplus?

Obviously there is growing attention to the issue of food waste, especially after the training course organized by the Antoniano a year ago. It was extremely helpful, and it inspired us to create a few rules for ourselves. The “Rules of the Volunteers” are:

  1.   Every time there’s a child, who obviously eats less than an adult, we tell the kitchen and ask them to prepare half a portion, to prevent food from going to waste.
  2.   Whenever a guest leaves something on the plate we ask if they want to take it away. Sometimes they are too shy to ask or they simply don’t think that it’s a possibility, so we go ahead and ask them.
  3.   Before serving a guest we explain what the dish is and we ask if they like everything or if there’s something that they wouldn’t want to eat.

Implementing these rules wasn’t easy. We are a lot of volunteers and some of us are less regular than others, but overall, I would say that the rules are helping to reduce food waste. The difference is remarkable. 

Are the volunteers able to connect with the guests?

 Absolutely. They have a special relationship with the guests. There are guests who like to talk about their personal experiences, and in that case it is important that our role as volunteers is well defined. I think that the most difficult aspect is to be available, while keeping things professional. We listen to them, try to understand their needs, support them, but at the same time we can’t let our emotions get in the way. It is often difficult, especially for me. I always want to do more. 

What is the most beautiful moment you have experienced at the Social Tables Antoniano?

A few weeks ago, I was with the other volunteers and we were waiting for a new Syrian family – mom, dad and two young boys – who were coming to the Social Tables for the first time. When they arrived I was very curious and I went to welcome them. The mother had brought two large containers with rice and kebab and a dessert that she had made. We soon found out that she brought the rice and the kebab for the other guests, while the dessert was for the volunteers and the staff. It was such a sweet and loving gesture.

I have another beautiful episode to share. The very first time I went to the Antoniano I met Johnny, the chef of Social Tables. Johnny is special, and we now share a beautiful friendship. The first time I met him, I shook his hand and then I went on to introduce myself to the other volunteers. After five minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around and I saw Johnny handing me a piece of ‘crescenta’ – his famous bread. I was stunned. He didn’t know who I was or why I was there, but he was welcoming me with something that makes him proud: his bread. When I saw his smile I immediately knew that I was in the right place.