Gianni Bernardinello, 76, left baskets filled with bread, pizza and sweets outside of his bakery in Milan to help those people in his community hit the hardest by the pandemic. Up until he caught the virus and fell ill, he went to work every single day to help his neighbors, despite his family’s pleas for him to stop.
A few days, ago a kind-hearted person left this world and his actions during the pandemic have merited the recognition and appreciation not only of his loved ones and peers but also of the online global community.
Last March, when northern Italy was being hit hard by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its resulting economic impact, the 76-year-old baker Gianni Bernardinello began to leave baskets filled with bread, pizza and sweets outside his shop in Milan’s Barrio Chino.
“A helping hand for those who need it. Help yourself and think of others too” read the note that accompanied the baskets. Gianni was considerate: After leaving the food outside he would disappear from sight so that none of his regular customers would see him and feel ashamed for standing in line to take the food.
“He said he left the goods outside at night but I also saw him leaving out fresh bread that had come straight from the oven in the middle of the day. He was genuinely concerned”.
—Alessandra De Luca, Gianni’s friend, told the NY Times—
Unfortunately Gianni caught coronavirus and he died as a result of it on November 9th, in a hospital in Milan.
Despite the risk he faced, Gianni opened his bakery everyday during the pandemic before he became ill, even though his daughters begged him to stay at home.
They say that one of the phrases their father would use to explain his refusal to shut the bakery was “there hasn’t been a single day in 130 years when bread wasn’t baked within these four walls. Not even during the 1943 bombings”, referring to the air raids that plagued the city during the Second World War.
Gianni Bernardinello was born that same year, in a town close to Milan and he began working as a goldsmith’s apprentice at 12 years old in order to help his family. After that he became a fashion photographer and, later on, a businessman in the wool industry. According to his daughters, in the 80s he changed paths again, as he wanted to work on products that “people will always need”.
Gianni bought the Macchi bakery in 1989, without ever even having touched a piece of dough before. However he studied the kneading techniques of the baker who worked there previously and learned how to make focaccias, panettones, cookies and sweet rolls.
He quickly became a favorite in the neighborhood as people would stop by the bakery to have a coffee and buy bread and they would end up listening to his stories. Almost immediately after the outbreak of the pandemic, the bakery became a collection point where people would leave sugar, pasta or sauce to go alongside Gianni’s donations.