VICENZA, Italy (May 8, 2019) -- Servicemembers of U.S. Army Garrison Italy's Better Opportunities for Single and Unaccompanied Soldiers have teamed up with local volunteers to help the homeless people of Vicenza over the past seven months.

Members of the Alpini veteran's association and volunteers from the Knights of the Order of Malta (CISOM in Italian) have a longstanding volunteering tradition in the Veneto region. They became natural partners of Americans who are willing to donate some off-duty time to give back to the local community.

The idea for the operation originated with a Garrison employee, Antonio Quaglia, the chairperson of Vicenza's CISOM. "I wanted to offer an outreach opportunity to our Soldiers to help people in the area, and the partnership with our Alpini friends seemed like a logical place to start," Quaglia said.

This special volunteer project began in early December with Italian and American volunteers patrolling downtown streets in the evenings to bring warm food and comfort items that would benefit the less fortunate, especially throughout the winter months.

"Walking through beautiful Italy among the legendary Alpini is a humbling experience. I felt a tsunami of emotions overcome me as we stumbled through the darkness of night to find those who are in need. You can see the gratitude and even relief in the eyes of those we help," said 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team BOSS representative Sgt. Reydel Castillo, Co. E, 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, stationed at Caserma Del Din here.

"More Soldiers are progressively becoming aware of volunteer opportunities and are asking about where they can join in to help. I am hoping to see all of us work together in larger numbers, covering bigger areas, in the near future. I think it is because of the BOSS program and the winning spirit of the 173rd, that we are always avid for a chance to prove ourselves an asset and to help anyone in need," Castillo added.

USAG Italy Command Sgt. Maj. Mason L. Bryant said the BOSS program is a way for Soldiers to give back to the community.

"Getting BOSS involved in volunteer activities offers Soldiers a venue to implement their will to give by serving others," he said. "It also shows the local community that U.S. Soldiers are here for them and grateful to have a chance to help.

"When we were asked to participate in this effort, we got the word out to our Soldiers, and they jumped all over the opportunity to do something to give back to the great city of Vicenza."

The city has a coordinated service of assistance and shelters that provides daily support to those in need or those who are living in the streets. In addition to municipal programs, there are volunteer associations which support daily efforts and charitable, especially after hours and on weekends.

"Come rain or snow, we are here every Wednesday night to do our part. Even though we're not their friends and we are not their family, we want them to know that there is still somebody who cares for them in this world," said Master Sgt. Riccardo Ard, USAG Italy, who has been volunteering with this effort since its start in December.

As a matter of fact, homelessness is not a significant issue for a small city like Vicenza. With a population of 115,000 in 2018, the local Social Welfare office has a censed number of approximately 50 homeless individuals in town. Such a small group has become quite the dispersed family to volunteers.

"There is a small population of homeless people who refuse assistance and opt to stay away from shelters because, for instance, they don't want to get back in the 'system,' or because they cannot respect the common rules of cohabitation, or because there are mental health issues, or substance abuse," said Quaglia.

"In addition to the hardships of the homeless condition itself, homeless people also suffer stigmatization by their fellow citizens. This way, they refuse the shelter opportunities offered by the Comune and prefer living in the streets because that guarantees their anonymity," said Mariano Fincato, team lead of the Vicenza Alpini "Giuriolo" group.

Altogether, the outreach effort has been able to assist nearly 15 homeless persons each evening, while also strengthening ties with the community and building new partnerships with local service organizations.

"I would like to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who has been involved in this initiative, either directly or indirectly. This partnership brings together an amazing group of American and Italian volunteers who literally carry the weight of this effort on their shoulders. They are incredibly caring people with a heart for service," said Frank W. Lands, deputy garrison commander, USAG Italy, himself a regular at the downtown Wednesday patrols alongside BOSS representatives.

"Whenever we have an opportunity to help those in need, our Soldiers will be there when possible," Lands said. "I cannot think of a better way to spend an evening after work. A lot of us have been very fortunate in our lives, but we shouldn't take it for granted -- we should help each other out."

The activity will continue at least throughout spring. Meanwhile, CISOM, Alpini and BOSS are planning food and clothing drives to resupply donations that will benefit the unsheltered for months to come.