Palermo — A group of Sicilians gather in Piazza Indipendenza once a week. From the trunks of their cars, they separate the donated pastries from sandwiches with pork, mindful of religious restrictions.
For the past five years, the Angels of the Night, or Angeli della Notte, have put on their orange vests and driven around different parts of the city feeding the homeless, a population with a rising share of African migrants.
“Unfortunately the [European Union] does not do anything about it, we feel left to our own means,” said Giuseppe Li Vigni, a 52-year-old high school teacher who first organized the group through Facebook. “Many of the migrants do not want to stay in Italy, but their hopes are slim and nothing is done to give them a good life in the countries of departure. Sicily is beautiful and full of sun and culture, but it offers very little. There are no jobs.”
Li Vigni estimates that about 40 percent of the people they serve weekly are migrants, the others are Italians, some of whom lost their jobs and homes during the economic crisis. By now they know people by names. Like Muhammad, who came from Iran more than 30 years ago and sleeps in a camper van by the port. He takes extra food to give out to others and offers shelter to those in need.
The volunteers meet Tuesdays at 9 p.m. and drive in tandem, stopping at known spots where the homeless congregate: train stations, busy shopping streets, narrow alleys. “Do you need a hat, do you need a scarf,” they asked as one of the volunteers quickly pulled out clothes from a bag and offered them to a young African migrant. On an unseasonably cold night in January, some of the men slept in a homeless shelter, the only place for those without legal status. Others found refuge inside the train station or trains, which is illegal.
“When you walk on the streets you see them but you don’t stop,” said Anna Li Vigni, Giuseppe’s daughter, as they drove from one spot to another, in between picking up donations from restaurants and hospitals. “But when you are here, you listen to their stories and how they got here.”