‘Suspended Bread’ during the COVID-19 Emergency



“Those who can, may leave something, and those in need can take.” The message, written on the sign shown above, is clear to passersby. In these weeks of emergency in Italy, this phrase is aimed at those who do not have access to food. It speaks to those in financial difficulties who find it challenging to put together lunch or dinner for themselves and their families. This particular sign posted on a wooden box was placed in front of a bakery on via Imbriani in Sesto Fiorentino, a town in the Florence metropolitan area. 

Against the background of the Italian flag, bakery customers and passersby can opt to leave part of their shopping in the basket, which has already been filled with packages of pasta and bread. At the end of the day, items which remain are collected by volunteers from Misericordia di Sesto Fiorentino––an affiliated charity with a focus on public health––who distribute the food to families in need. 

This initiative was inspired by the Neapolitan tradition caffè sospeso or “suspended coffee.” Anyone can partake in this practice by ordering an extra espresso with payment “suspended,” given by the donor for someone who is in need. Suspended coffee boomed among working class Italians during World War II, but has since become popular in other European countries and the United States during an economic crisis. During the coronavirus pandemic, caffè sospeso has become a symbol of community and a reminder to help others who are suffering.

Solidarity practices like this one are multiplying. Citizens from various districts in Florence have already expressed a desire to donate part of their shopping to those who find themselves without a salary, and “spese sospese” boxes filled with similar items plus olive oil, tuna, tomato sauce and other non-perishables have popped up throughout the city, beginning in piazza Alberti.  (elizabeth berry)

This community resource, which can be dubbed “suspended bread during the COVID-19 emergency” is being echoed by the Unicoop Florence supermarket chain, where customers can make a cash donation so that volunteer associations can directly help those in need.

To read more in Italian, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site.