Italians Turn Old Tradition of Charitable Giving into Modern COVID Response With ‘Suspended Shopping’

Caffe sospeso—an Italian term which means ‘suspended coffee’—is what someone says in a Naples café when they’re feeling generous and want to pay it forward to someone less fortunate.

The tradition has come back into fashion in the last decade, but suspended coffee is an old Napolitano custom that actually arose after World War II, according to Luciano de Crescenzo’s book Caffe Sospeso, perhaps as a result of people wanting a release for their charitable urges.

Now, in their COVID-conscious culture, a more generous version of the tradition is sweeping Italy with ‘suspended shopping’ (la spesa sospesa).

COVID-19 has done more damage in Italy than almost anywhere else, and because of the extreme difficulties, people are going into shops and paying the grocery tabs for strangers who might be out of work.

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An estimated one in every two Italians has been out of work—or in ‘lavoro sospeso’, suspended work—since early March, and people are beginning to wonder how they will be able to afford to feed their families.

Shop owner Michela Buccilli in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni della Malva, says she has been matching the donations of anyone who has something to spare. One customer told NPR news, after she asked to donate a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of oranges to a local aid group, the store owner went ahead and sent a whole crate.

The Power of the Internet

COVID-19 has shuttered two million Italian businesses, and citizens often compare such challenges to the ones posed by World War II.

In 1940s and 50s, a happy-go-lucky person in Naples might make a humanitarian gesture, after picking up a coffee from a street vendor, as if he were “buying a coffee for the world.” Italy was in economic straights after World War II, and it was common for people not to have enough money for a coffee.

Now with the internet on their side, modern-day Italians have more opportunities to support local businesses. One Italian foodie website, Puntarella Rossa, recently launched il calice sospeso “the suspended wine glass,” where readers can buy vouchers worth 1 glass, or 1 bottle of wine from a local bar—redeemable after the lockdown orders are lifted.

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“We did it as a way to help these businesses economically,” Livia Belardelli, the site’s wine blogger told NPR. But it also nourishes the communities that support the shops.

Since April 1st, Belardelli says more than 150 readers and patrons have paid for wine-in-waiting at over 30 wine bars.

But wine, coffee, and groceries aren’t the only things being “suspended.” From sustainable clothing brand Re-Bello comes a crowd-funding campaign called One-for-One Mask.

An Italian news network described it as ‘La Mascherina Sospesa’—you guessed it, the suspended mask. A person can buy one washable, antibacterial mask, and the profits go to providing a second mask for a refugee in Cyprus through a European aid organization Refugee Support Europe.

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On the inside of every mask lies a simple line bending into a smile alongside an embroidered message “The world will smile with you”. So far, 7700 of the 27,000 Euro needed for the project has been accumulated. You can contribute to it on Indiegogo by buying masks for yourself and a refugee, (1 mask for you, and 1 for a refugee) or 2 for 2, or 5 for 5.

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

(LISTEN to the NPR segment below)

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