At Politecnico di Milano, a project does the grocery shopping for those who can’t

Thanks to your pre-tax donations ('5 per mille') and the collaboration of Milanese shopkeepers, students and researchers took action to help families in need

The five research projects on the theme of 'Equality and Recovery', selected by the Polisocial Award 2021 and financed thanks to '5 per mille' pre-tax donations to Politecnico di Milano, are coming to an end. The public health emergency resulting from the pandemic contributed to intensifying inequality and marginalisation and actualising the risk of an increase in disparity; therefore, the funded projects work towards economic, social and cultural recovery by promoting the development of methods, strategies, tools and technologies aimed at reducing inequalities and facilitating access to resources and opportunities for particularly vulnerable people, social groups or communities.

Co-ordinated by Prof. Davide Fassi at the Department of Design, the SOSpesa project takes its cue from a grassroots neighbourhood initiative which started in a Facebook group - NoLo Social District. During the first lockdown in 2020, it was a meeting point for those who wanted to donate food, those who needed it, and those who could make themselves available to deliver groceries door-to-door. With the end of the lockdown period, Off Campus NoLo at Politecnico di Milano has decided to adopt this initiative, starting to experiment with various methods to offer a service that was previously left to individual initiative. The Off Campus spaces at the neighbourhood market at Viale Monza 54 were chosen for this. Researchers Valentina Ferreri from the Department of Design and Stefano Quaglia from the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering explain the details of this project, moving from the desire to help families in need.


'We wanted to provide a different service compared to the classic "spesa sospesa" offered by supermarket chains, in order to avoid the "first come, first served" crowd,' Ferreri explains. The food being given away is fresh and high-quality, and the distribution system is managed in an orderly manner: the recipients (currently around 200 families) are contacted to organise the delivery of the groceries, which takes place a couple of times a month. Each family is entitled to pick up two types of groceries, alternating between them: first a packet of surplus food, rescued thanks to the collaboration with RECUP and various neighbourhood shops that donate their unsold food, and then a bag of products worth 30 euros, bought by Off Campus.


How are recipient families identified? "Initially, they had to register on an online platform, then in 2021, with the arrival of our Polisocial project, a selection of recipient families and a methodology of distribution on a rotational basis were defined", Ferreri explains. "We do not ask for proof of financial status, we trust people's good faith: we have neither the means nor the ability to check. It works: we are notified of many people by Rete Qubì in Loreto, others are referred by families who already benefit from the service; some have even removed themselves from the list, because they no longer need help."


Another aspect of the SOSpesa project is the 'transformation' (yes, this is what it’s called) of unsold goods: "Many shopkeepers wanted to support our initiative with unsold goods, but they had an insufficient amount of surplus. So we decided to donate a small part of the boxes we rescue thanks to the work of the Recup association to the restaurant ‘Cunza’ and the delicatessen ‘Fola’, which reprocess and cook the products to make dishes and preserves to sell. For every dish sold, the project receives one euro", explains Ferreri.

Among the most critical issues encountered, especially with an eye to the future, is the need to continuously raise funds for the project: 'We are always in need of money to buy quality food,' explains Ferreri. 'At the moment, those who wish can donate in three ways: with Satispay, by bank transfer or in cash at the collection points. In the future, however, if the model expands to other neighbourhoods, fundraising will be an aspect to be taken into account.' According to Quaglia, the added value of SOSpesa is that, by getting the real neighbourhood involved, they can better see to the social aspect and create a network of people willing to work with them.


The project involved many students as volunteers: "Some student associations, such as Social Innovation Teams (SIT), took care of the relationship with the recipients, contacting them when it was time to pick up the groceries", says Ferreri. Another active collaboration is with the Muslim Students Association, which assists the volunteers delivering groceries at the Off Campus NoLo site, talking with recipients who do not understand Italian.


The researchers are now ready to wrap up the project, which is in its closing phase: one of the ideas for the future, in addition to taking the model to other neighbourhoods (starting perhaps with other Off Campus sites), is to develop a neighbourhood refrigerator project. 'It would be interesting to share a cold store with other organisations and services involved in food rescue and redistribution. Rete Qubì participated in a municipal call for projects with this idea, now we just have to wait for the results,' Ferreri concludes.