As the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout unfolded in northern Italy in March this year, Gianni Bernardinello, a local baker, began placing baskets full of bread, pizza and sweets outside his shop. in the Chinatown of Milan. “To lend a helping hand to those in need ,” the sign above the baskets said, “help yourself and think of others too.”
After setting out the baked goods, Bernardinello would immediately disappear from sight to avoid embarrassing anyone he might meet who was waiting in line to receive the brochure.
“He said he was putting out leftovers at night, but I also saw him putting out fresh bread in the middle of the day,” said Alessandra De Luca, 56, a customer and friend, “I was really worried.”
Bernardinello died on Nov. 9 from the coronavirus at a Milan hospital, his daughter, Samuela Bernardinello, said. The beloved baker was 76 years old.
Until he got sick, he went to his bakery every day even though his daughters begged him to stay home.
“Between these walls there was not a day in 130 years that they stopped making bread,” he used to say, “even under the bombing of 1943.”
Bernardinello was born that year, on December 22, in Montù Beccaria, a town near Milan where his parents had been evacuated. His father, Aldo Bernardinello, worked in a car engine factory and his mother, Carla Guastoni, was a housewife.
He began working at the age of 12 as an apprentice goldsmith to help support his family. He went on to become a fashion photographer and then started a yarn business. When the sector went through a crisis in the 1980s, he began looking for new business opportunities. This time, he wanted to sell a product that “people will always need,” he told his daughters.
He bought the Macchi bakery in 1989. Bernardinello had never touched dough before, but training with the old baker, he quickly learned the trade: how to knead wheat, corn or chestnut dough into focaccias, panettone, cookies and rolls.
The bakery, renamed Berni after Bernardinello’s nickname, became a neighborhood gathering place, where locals stopped by for coffee or to listen to Berni talk about the drones he had built, another passion, or the festival of jazz in the neighborhood that he had organized, with the association of Chinese businessmen.
Along with his daughter Samuela, he is survived by his wife, Orsola Vinetti; another daughter, Patrizia Bernardinello; his sister, Maria Elettra; and four grandchildren.
After the pandemic began, the bakery also became a place where residents could drop off staples like sugar, pasta or tomato sauce alongside the baskets their daughters continued to fill with sweet rolls and loaves of bread. Her daughter Samuela took over the business.
“He said we should help as we can,” he said. “People always need bread.”
Today his community mourns his loss for the great love they saw in the actions of this baker. Share your story so that everyone remembers it and repeats these actions.