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A new life for abandoned baggage

"Gabbianella" volunteers distribute goods to the most needy

In Naples, they found a complete doctor's bag, the type used for home visits, with a blood pressure gauge, a stethoscope and all the rest. In Verona, along the same lines, a complete set of clinical records that "took who knows how long to put together." In Milan, the city of shopping, a suitcase that contained two brand new Chanel bags and a barely-used pair of Church shoes, all accompanied by receipts and guarantees: 1,550 euros for each bag and 528 euros for the shoes. And even a rather curious ‘party set," including plastic phalluses and latex lingerie.

It is strange what people forget in the suitcases they entrust to luggage services but never pick up. The good news is that these objects are now being offered a new life for humanitarian purposes after the Italian rail station company, Grandi Stazioni Spa, prompted by a just completed restructuring project, decided to clear out all the unclaimed bags. The company appointed the social welfare organization "La Gabbianella" to put the abandoned articles to good use by distributing them through a network of about 40 local non-profits.

Mariella Bucalossi, a Gabbianella volunteer and one of the coordinators of the project, underlined its complexity. "Just taking Rome's Termini station alone, we are talking about 2,600 items, including backpacks, packages and various shoulder bags," she said. In Rome, we have already completed the processing of two lots of bags – 548 of the total of 2,600 – distributing them to the Torvajanica charity and to the non-profit Erythros that deals with the rights and defense of foreigners." Likewise, the project has had success in Bologna, Milan, Florence, Naples, Venice and Verona, while Turin, Genoa, Bari and Palermo are about to start the process.

Things that are immediately reusable are distributed to people who need them. The other objects are sold in tag sales. Even the suitcases end being reused. "Do you know how many it takes to send the stuff to our street children in the Ivory Coast and Mozambique?" explains Riccardo Mabilia, a missionary from the Villaregia di Nola community who has emptied the deposit at Naples' central station. "Each summer ten or twelve volunteers go to Nairobi, each with one of these suitcases, filled with 20kg of supplies. Much of this is clothes, but there are also products for hygiene and personal cleanliness.

The only problem is caused by damaged bags, some of which, as Ernesto Chiesa of the La Goccia association in Milan described, have been "destroyed by mice, because they were abandoned who knows how long ago. We have had to throw away more than 500 items. The volunteers didn't even want to risk touching them."

La Goccia also works with unclaimed bags at Malpensa airport, where authorities take abandoned luggage very seriously. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the mere idea of unattended baggage in a crowded place causes considerable fear. "And in fact, before donating them for reuse, the railway police have to check them," said Bucalossi.

Sometimes the most suspect bags end up containing the most valuable goods. Massimo Paglialunga, in charge of coordination for the Grandi Stazioni, recalls that "according to the contract that regulates left luggage, bags are considered abandoned after 60 days. To be on the safe side, we wait a little longer: between six and 12 months, because sometimes someone realizes and asks for everything to be sent. Once the bag has technically passed into the ownership of Grandi Stazioni, the bag will be checked, transferred to a dedicated deposit, a type of closed archive, and then donated to the non-profit groups."

The system works well all around, although it's still not clear where those lingerie sets and sex toys ended up. Are they also dutifully recycled? "Joking aside," said Ernesto Chiesa, "we have destroyed them all: we do have a sense of morality."


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