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All I wanted was a better trash system for our house. The big trash bin wasn’t working and I hated lugging the huge bag down the street, so when Ikea beautifully displayed three bins that’d fit perfectly under our sink, we bought them immediately. Come to find out once we ran out of the first few rolls of trash bags, that Italy and Ikea are apparently in a dispute as to the side of trash bins. Now, unless we routinely run to Ikea and get the specific-sized trash bags that fit our silly bins, there are none¬†in the Italian grocery stores that properly fit. Alas, we were out of bags again and no Ikea run in sight, so I was off to try again and find plastic bags that would maybe suffice.

It was sunny out today and particularly warm for it being almost December, which meant everyone was out. I walked to the grocery store passing a juggler in the intersection. He’d put on a show during the red lights, then walk among his audience of traffic hoping for change. There was a big truck outside the market with a team of people in red shirts loading big cardboard boxes. By the entrance I saw others in yellow vests, and then it hit me – last weekend of November, my mind connects it with Thanksgiving – it’s the Giornata Nazionale della Colletta Alimentare –¬†National Food Drive Day!

I knew about the event from working with FIT because our students would help every year in a supermarket in Scandicci. This year is the 23rd year of the event that happens nationwide in Italy at all of the grocery stores. Volunteers sign up to help promote the event and take in the food donations under the organization of the Fondazione Banco Alimentare that organizes food collections to donate to the poor. I have to say this is one of the most organized things I’ve ever seen in this country.

I was met with about five little girls with their parents standing behind them in the entryway and immediately got three or four yellow plastic bags and flyers pressed toward my face and a flourish of adorable polite Italian asking if I’d like to participate. Of course I would. I took a bag and a flyer and headed into the store. The flyer has information on the event and a few suggested items: baby food, rice, canned tomatoes and sauces, tuna cans, beans, olive oil, cookies (cookies here are not anything like in the US). It was like a reverse Easter egg hunt. Customers everywhere were filling up their yellow bags as quickly as their own carts, talking amicably around racks of sale items, especially if you have the points card of the store. I grabbed things as I went to get my trashbags and the few other things we needed for the house. I rang up everything in the self-checkout and handed the yellow bag over to another little girl with a huge smile. “Grazie tanto!” and that was it. I had made a donation, and it was that easy.

I thought back to the millions of times in the US when I was supposed to remember to go buy canned goods to bring home and then remember to bring those to whatever event was having the collection. Here, you get excited to participate, the influence is everywhere, it’s so easy to do – you’re shopping anyway – and they use the community to help promote it to make this one incredibly successful food drive. Last year, National Food Drive Day collected over 18,000 pounds of donations and had 145,000 volunteers helping throughout the country. It’s a perfect system – and there should be more of it.

I got my trash bags. They actually fit this time, even though they’re twice the length they need to be. We can deal with that. It was worth the trip to the market today anyway. Next year I won’t forget, and may have students volunteering again!

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