Born in Villadossola, on the border with Switzerland, Roberto Morgantini moved to Bologna in 1967. He is the son of two partigiani parents and has therefore experienced his fair share of troubles and hardships. His only sister Luisa was a member of the European Parliament and he himself has two children with his partner of thirty-eight years. In fact, it’s his rather belated marriage to his partner where Roberto’s charitable instincts really succeeded in helping the many vulnerable people in Bologna who had nowhere else to turn.
For twenty years though, he has been organising Christmas dinners for the poor with the support of Ristorante Napoleone and Ristorante Diana. He also managed to involve big show business names such as Dalla and Morandi in order to bring some widespread focus on the issue of the poor in this city. Although he admitted to asking himself one day: “Okay, so for one evening it’s great, but what about all the other days of the year?”
And this is where the next big part of the story begins to unravel. It all began with his belated wedding. Roberto admitted, “We’re not the traditional type of couples so we like to do things differently. we decided to invite 600 people to our wedding and instead of giving us presents we asked them to donate money for our very first ‘Cucine Popolari’ in Bologna.” They were even married off by Moni Ovadia a famous theatrical actor and singer born in Bulgaria off Jewish parents. “The whole event was incredible,” Roberto continued. “We invited as many people from different religions and backgrounds as possible. It was great to see. Foreigners mixed with Italians, Jews, Buddhists, Orthodox… just about everyone came to join in,” he smiled cheerfully. “However,” he added, “the best news was that we collected over €70,000 to start off our ‘Cucine Popolari’ (People’s Kitchen).”
With this money they opened the first kitchen in July 2014, in Via Battiferro 2. They aim to cater to the most fragile and those in difficulty, even after the economic crisis is long over. Their new kitchen was founded in the halls of a local PD circolo but as Roberto pointed out, there is nothing politically related to their venture. The place was offered to them for their own use, free of rent though they must pay any gas or electric related bills.
Christmas time of course is a very difficult time of year for many so Roberto and his many volunteers always look for ways to bring in extra cash. “We have some sponsors and lenders but we do not have any official public support from the comune. And anyone can go to eat there. It’s free for people reported to us by social workers and parishes, while for everyone else we just ask for a donation. Furthermore, it’s not just a kitchen but where people can come for some company or simply to be with and get to know others.”
For this reason, and to finance last year’s Christmas events they invented a ‘libro nel cartone’ (book in the carton); this year’s is “vino nel cartone” (2 bottles of wine in cardboard holder) selling for €10.
Another initiative that Roberto helped to launch was the ‘Palestinian Dinners’. “Strictly speaking though, they are not only dinners, but also lunches, and they’ve also been organised for Indian, Thai, Philippines, and other nationalities,” commented Roberto. “The proceeds go to charity of these ethnic groups and the events are promoted as multi-cultural opportunities, through food, as a fast and easy way to reach people.”
Not content with helping the less fortunate in Bolognese society Roberto has also recently been involved in a project on Ponte Stalingrado just outside Porta Mascarella. Called “100/40 Muri Diversi” (100/40 different walls) – the 100 referred to 100 painters needed to repaint the walls on Stalingrado Bridge while 40 artists would redecorate them with various themes from around the world. It was hailed as a great success and in fact, Roberto claimed more artists turned up than there were spaces to paint.
Roberto described how the day went: “Street artists of all ages came including children. Some of them are angry because of social conflicts. I called people that I knew personally for the project then I made an appeal on Facebook. I also contacted the Academy of Belle Arti, but it would have required a design and years of waiting. The results (wall murals) are not all at the same artistic level but it’s an initiative from the bottom up… We were all volunteers while some companies helped us by providing the paint. The idea was born years ago in Cirenaica alla Tavolata Multietnica, and based on the merit of Gutierrez murals…We have plans to do others in the Navile and Masserenti areas because we want to make our city more beautiful for everyone.”
For more information Cucine Popolari in Bologna check out there Facebook page or web site: www.civibo.it & www.facebook.com/civibo
*These articles were supported by an interview in Italian by Serenella Gatti Linares.