The local municipality in Turin, one of the largest cities in Italy, is financially supporting ISKCON’s local Food For Life effort.
“Recently I went to the municipality office to bring them some prasad, and they said, ‘Thank you so much for what you are doing,’” says the program’s director Prabhu Das.
Prabhu moved from Milan two years ago to start a new temple in Turin, where there had been no ISKCON center for many years. He started with nothing, raised funds through book distribution, found a building with a large kitchen and started Food For Life on a small scale.
Then someone from the local municipality attended a program he put on at a local library, and offered to support him in feeding people at five homeless shelters in the city.
Now Prabhu, his son Abhirama, and new devotee Hayagriva Das have been serving prasadam to 100 homeless people at two different shelters every Monday for over a year.
The free sacred food is quite a spread – each plate includes kichari, subji, papadams, fresh bread, raita, and halava for dessert.
But it’s not only about feeding people’s bellies. “We sit with them, talk to them, ask how they are and develop friendships,” says Prabhu. “A lot of them are just normal people who went adrift, fell on hard times and lost their jobs and families. Sometimes they can’t find space at the shelters so they’re sleeping on the streets. They need not just food but also love and understanding.”
Because of the stress they’re going through, tension at the shelters is often high.
“Several times people were yelling and fighting amongst themselves when we arrived,” Prabhu says. “But once we put on some kirtan music and start distributing prasadam, the atmosphere changes – they all become friends.”
Devotees’ genuine desire to help people in need has been so moving to the local public that Food For Life always has thirty to fifty volunteers assisting. These volunteers become very attached to their service, and many begin chanting, reading Prabhupada’s books, and participating in programs at the temple.
“We have a mantra-yoga program on Wednesday, a ‘mystic pizza’ party on Friday, a Food For Life table downtown with books and prasadam on Saturday, and the Sunday Feast on Sunday,” says Prabhu. “The volunteers and their friends become our congregation.”
The Turin Food For Life program has gained such a reputation that it has been featured on the local evening news, mentioned at the Italian Parliament, and, Prabhu says, the goodwill it creates is responsible for at least fifty per cent of devotees’ book distribution in the city.
“I think it would be nice if each temple had a program like this in their own city,” he opines, explaining that while Food For Life is a doorway into Krishna consciousness rather than the be-all and end-all, it does open up relationships and help people appreciate devotees like nothing else.
In the future, devotees hope to open up the first vegetarian soup kitchen / meal center in Turin.
Until then, it looks like they will keep serving the municipality and homeless people of Turin from their temple.
“The people are happy that we’re feeding them, but they can also feel that we love and want to help them,” says Prabhu. “And that makes all the difference.”
This may come from the ability to empathize on a broader scale. “Ultimately we are all homeless here in this world,” Prabhu concludes. “We’re all searching for a way back to our eternal home.”
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