Female gondoliers in Venice deliver food to elderly amid coronavirus lockdown

Venice gondolas deliver food amid lockdown

During the coronavirus lockdown in Italy, getting groceries has been especially difficult for the elderly. So volunteers in Venice found a solution that couldn't be more Venetian.

A team of all women rowers from Row Venice is using gondolas to deliver organic food to locals. Farmers from around the lagoon help load the orders into the boats.

Giulia Tagliapietra, a competitive rower, said she and the others were stuck at home, unable to train for the racing season during the lockdown.

"It's a bit difficult, so now we do this like twice or three times a week, and it also helps us because we can go out and breathe and row," Tagliapietra told CBS News foreign correspondent Chris Livesay.

Venice saw the worst flooding in a generation this past fall. As it was struggling to recover, COVID-19 struck, decimating tourism, the city's main industry, and forcing the elderly to shelter at home. The city's population also has shrunk from 170,000 people after World War II to just over 50,000 today, as mass tourism pushes living costs up and locals out. 

Food deliveries like the ones by the gondoliers are one way of helping that decreasing population. Rain or shine, they deliver at drop-off points around the city. 

One man who received the food said the deliveries are important. "And it's so inspiring to see it delivered in a traditional Venetian boat," he said.

Food also isn't the only thing they need. In a city with no cars, a group of volunteers called Generazione 90 also deliver medicine by foot.

One woman said the volunteers saved her life. "Me with my broken arm," she said. "And my 90-year-old mother."

She called volunteer Marco Caberlotto her angel.

"In the end, it could be your grandparents, it could be your elderly aunt or a family member, so you find lonely people that maybe sometimes need also someone who's friendly with them, someone who's caring somehow, and it feels very nice," Caberlotto said.

The gondoliers plan to continue making deliveries even after the lockdown. They say it's good for the body and the soul.