Food poverty is not perceived as a policy priority in Italy, and scholars have only recently started to analyse the relationship between poverty and food charity using various approaches (Santini and Cavicchi, 2014; Baglioni et al, 2017; Arcuri, 2019; Galli et al, 2019). This chapter's starting point in framing the relationship is based on the traditional scarcity of resources and fragmentation of the Italian social assistance sector, which has been instrumental in the institutionalisation of charitable assistance. Charitable assistance has traditionally played a crucial role in the provision of basic services to the most vulnerable people in Italy, including through food aid (Madama et al, 2013), often carried out through a regime of ‘mutual accommodation’ (Ranci, 1999). This entailed very little cooperation between the state and the third sector in setting goals and planning long-term strategies for the supply of services; however, in functional terms, there was strong interdependence (Ranci et al, 2005).
During the years 2011–13, a rise in the use of charitable food aid was recorded, providing a clear signal that thousands of people were experiencing financial hardship. A record high was reached in January 2013, when 4,068,250 individuals were receiving European food aid – a 47 per cent increase from the 2,763,379 individuals in 2010 (AGEA, 2013). On the front line of providing an immediate response to what was called a ‘food emergency’ (Secondo Welfare, 2013; FBAO, 2014), both faith-based and secular charitable organisations across Italy deployed traditional instruments to fight food poverty: soup kitchens and food parcels. These ‘low-threshold services’ (Tomei and Caterino, 2013), mostly run by volunteers, are commonly used by marginalised individuals and households in exceptional circumstances, who are given help in the form of a prepared meal or a non-perishable food parcel. However, over the past few years, in the wake of the economic crisis – besides worsening conditions for those who were already experiencing some form of destitution – many additional households have fallen into poverty. Simultaneously, public services and resources have been further reduced as a result of government austerity measures (Caritas Europe, 2015; Caselli, 2015; Gori et al, 2016).