Maria Stella Fernandez comes from humble origins, but she never needed help from anyone. Since 2008, when she arrived in La Spezia from the Dominican Republic, she has always worked, not stopping for a second. She even managed to bring her children to Italy. Maria Stella supports her daughter and grandchildren: two years ago, she decided to move into a new apartment, closer to her grandchildren’s school.

“We used to pay less rent” she explains “but it was too far from the kids’ school. There were few buses connecting the hold place and the school, and they were so little: I couldn’t stand to see them going out still very sleepy every single morning. I decided to look for a new apartment. I was working as a caregiver at the time, for an elderly couple here in La Spezia. It was enough to make a living, pay for a better apartment and give my grandchildren what they needed. Then Covid-19 came.”

The family Maria Stella was working for suddenly decided to let her go. The couple’s daughter thought it might be too dangerous to have someone in their home who might give them the virus. Maria Stella understood their fears but had to come to terms with the lack of a salary in the middle of a pandemic, with an expensive new home and three people to take care of.  Her former employer suggested her to go to the Don Bosco Church, just to see if they could help her somehow.

It was the beginning of the summer, when Maria Stella met Daniela and Moreno, who volunteered for the group “Colazioni col Sorriso” (Breakfast with a smile) and gave her the help she needed.

“Let me tell you something, she says, I never expected to be treated so kindly! Until the middle of January, every two weeks they gave me all I needed to eat: pasta, rice, tomato sauce, vegetables, olive oil, jam and biscuits, even some sweets for the kids. It was such a joy to receive all this good food in this situation. In January I found a new job: they give me 800 € per month, but it is enough to pay for the apartment and to buy my own groceries. So I decided to quit the programme. There is plenty of people in need, I advised lot of my friends to go the same volunteers for help. I simply think that now they deserve this help more than me. But I don’t regret anything: the first time I received my pack I cried for joy and I would do the same thing again if I needed to. I would never starve, or let my kids suffer! These volunteers have been so good to me, I can’t pay them back financially, but I told them: I am ready to do my part. I will always be grateful to them; they have been wonderful!”.

As Maria Stella get back on her feet, many people still need food assistance in La Spezia. Doctors with Africa CUAMM has provided support to the volunteers of “Colazioni col Sorriso” in La Spezia thanks to the U.S. Government, which through USAID is supporting a number of projects in Italy, aiming at reducing the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. From August 2020 to December 2020, 30,000 kg of food have been distributed in La Spezia.

This story is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Doctors with Africa CUAMM, recipient of the Fixed Amount Award (FAA) No. 7200AA20FA00013 and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

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