Solidarity Meals was launched just four weeks ago, providing 200 meals a day. It is now supplying up to 750 meals every day.
The Alfred Mizzi Foundation has long been involved in the provision of free meals to the needy, but COVID-19 has increased the demand for the charity, says Julian Sammut, chair of the foundation.
“When we were hit by this virus we realised many people would need a good hearty meal and that most of these would not be able to leave their homes,” Sammut says.
To mark the 100th anniversary of their sponsor, Alf Mizzi & Sons Ltd, on the foundation’s initiative, Dar Papa Franġisku – a soup kitchen and night shelter – was set up in collaboration with Caritas (Malta) and the Ministry for Family Affairs.
“This is when we actually began to prepare cooked meals. Since then, we have been providing some 60 meals a day. We also support a number of NGOs and institutions which require food to distribute or cook for residents, like Foodbank Lifeline, Little Sisters of the Poor, Sisters of Charity, Millennium Chapel and various others.”
The restaurant Vecchia Napoli has a fully equipped kitchen, a big area and extremely capable and dedicated staff who cater for the demand of Solidarity Meals.
“The food is freshly cooked every day and the menu rotates every 10 days to ensure variety. We make sure our meals are nutritious and well-balanced.”
The operation runs like clockwork. Every day, at 11am, those responsible for the delivery – Chris Schembri and Kevin Zerafa from Alf Mizzi & Sons Marketing, turn up in the Solidarity Meals refrigerated van and all meals are loaded. These are then dropped off at five hubs – from here, volunteers under the supervision of Caritas collect the meals and distribute them to those in need.
We approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of privilege, in being able to serve society
For the first time in the 18-year-long history of the foundation, contributions of fresh produce like vegetables, fruit, bread and fish are being accepted. Alf Mizzi & Sons Marketing provide the other food provisions.
Jonathan Debattista, the operations manager at Vecchia Napoli, has been working with Kitchen Concepts for seven years and has rarely drawn so much satisfaction from his work.
“I’m lucky to be working with professionals. All our staff – from Vecchia Napoli, Cuba and Gululu, which are presently closed – are used to working under pressure. Chef Charlo Pulis is just wonderful. What is so impressive is the way the team has handled the demand, going from 200 meals to up to 800 meals in under one month without a hiccup.”
Albert Debono, from Caritas Diaconia, who coordinates the distribution of meals to homes, said it very encouraging to be able to work hand-in-hand with parish priests, their diaconia commissions and diocesan community – entities that work together and acknowledge the vast pastures of common ground.
The Caritas Diaconia Unit is working with the St Jeanne Antide foundation, Fondazzoni Sebħ, Paolo Freire institute and the Millennium Chapel and is being support-ed by the metropolitan Cathedral Chapter in providing volunteers with the necessary safety needs.
“The Solidarity Meals project has given us the opportunity to show our mettle, and discover the strengths that our togetherness gives us. Sometimes coordination work can be a challenge – but we approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of privilege, in being able to serve society,” he says.
Nora Macelli, St Jeanne Antide Foundation CEO, which provides information on the vulnerable recipients of Solidarity Meals, said she was contacted by Julian Sammut in mid-March, to discuss his idea of providing up to 1,000 pre-cooked meals a day to vulnerable families.
“Initially we were sceptical for this was not a straightforward operation, especially considering the volumes we were looking at.
“However, a sense of determination on all sides helped us overcome any challenges. For us all, at an unprecedented time like the COVID-19 calamity, the Solidarity Meals effort is a blessing.”
On the receiving end
“Words fail me when I try to describe the work of the St Jeanne Antide Foundation. I feel very grateful for the love with which they support us.”
Tania, a homeless woman who was assisted by the St Jeanne Antide Foundation to find accommodation and settle down.
“The meals we are receiving are splendid and help me cope with bringing up my four children on my own. I wouldn’t cope without this help.”
Angela, mother of four.
“I cannot thank you enough for what you are doing to people who really need help like me and my children.”
Marianne, single mother.
“Someone who helps me in this manner is like a candle on a dark path. I wish that in the future I could give back. I’m so grateful and I appreciate this so much.”
“I am really grateful for these meals. The dedication to prepare these meals comes out through the flavour of the food I’m receiving.”
* Names have been changed to protect identity.