Vittoria Dussias '13 in her Misericordia orange uniform.

Vittoria Dussias ’13 in her Misericordia orange uniform.

The Misericordia di Firenze, an association dedicated to the aid and transportation of the ill, is the oldest active confraternity of its kind in Italy and the world.

Founded in 1244 by Saint Peter the Martyr, the Misericordia (“Mercy” in Italian) performs acts of charity such as transporting the sick to and from hospitals, providing burial to the poor, feeding those in need and more. During the years of the Plague, the Misericordia had the task of aiding those infected with the disease and helping them through their suffering. During these times, members of the Misericordia wore black, hooded robes to hide their identity while performing services; they believed that one should do good for the sake of doing good and not to receive recognition or thanks.

While today the black robes have been replaced by a bright orange jumpsuit, for safety purposes, the old uniform is still used during ceremonies and celebrations.

The Misericordia of today has kept its fundamental ideals the same. First and foremost, members of the Misericordia aid those in need. This can range from anything between servizi sociali (social services) such as transporting dialysis patients between hospital and home, to servizi d’emergenza (emergency services) on an ambulance.

A Misericordia ambulance outside Firenze's famous Duomo.

A Misericordia ambulance outside Firenze’s famous Duomo.

In addition to these services, however, the Misericordia does more to help its community. On the day of San Sebastian (the Misericordia‘s patron saint), the confraternity offers a pranzo dei poveri, a free meal for those who live in underprivileged circumstances. This small act sums up the Misericordia‘s ideology simply: “it is our duty as human beings to help those in need whenever we are able to do so.”

Volunteering with the Misericordia has been a one-of-a-kind experience.

I have always enjoyed volunteer work and I came into the Misericordia expecting to gain a greater understanding of the medical world while fulfilling my desire to help those in need. The Misericordia has not let me down. I have had both simple and not-so-simple cases. I have seen the inner-workings of an emergency room and spoken with doctors, nurses and patients. Every time, I leave my shift feeling happy that I, along with my teammates, was able to help at least one person.

What I was not expecting from this experience was the intense sense of caring among the volunteers. Not only do they do their best to make their patients and patients’ families feel at ease, but they also care deeply about one another.

Centuries-old donation slot at Misericordia: "limosiune per i poveri (charity for the poor)"

Centuries-old donation slot at Misericordia: “limosiune per i poveri (charity for the poor)”

I first came to this realization on the day of my first night shift. Given that I was the only new person, I was first introduced to everyone. We then sat, chatted, watched TV and played cards while waiting to be called. When dinner time rolled around, people started pushing tables together, setting out table cloths, forks, knives, cups, plates and by the end of it, a homemade dinner was served, complete with appetizers, two different kinds of pasta, and dessert.

It was when we finally started eating and people began talking, teasing each other, laughing and sword fighting with plastic forks that I realized that the Misericorida is more than just an organization. It’s a tight-knit community created by trust and friendship.

Outside the Misericordia, these volunteers are lawyers, engineers, and teachers, but the moment they put on that bright orange uniform, they become part of a family that works to save lives every day.

I know that if I ever find myself in need, I would feel safe in their capable hands. I am proud and honored to say that I belong to the Misericordia di Firenze.