When Gigi Mirto’s young family returned to Brisbane after out-running COVID-19 in Europe, they had nothing but their suitcases and an empty house but the generosity of the community changed that.
In 2018, Mr Mirto, originally from Naples, packed up his young family’s life and moved to Italy.
He and wife Jenny wanted to ensure their young daughter spent part of her life in Italy, connecting with her heritage and extended family.
“[Before we moved] we basically donated and sold everything we owned, even the cars,” Mr Mirto told ABC Radio Brisbane.
The family had been living in southern Italy, in a medieval village called Sant’Agata de’ Goti, when the pandemic took hold and landed them in a strict lockdown.
“We were in this idyllic village and we got locked in … for three months,” Mr Mirto said.
Only one person could leave for essentials and police monitored the streets.
When restrictions finally relaxed they knew their chances of getting back to Australia were slim.
Instead, they sold their car and bought a motor home, travelling around Europe in the most COVID-safe way they could.
“We tried to make the most out of a very bad situation,” he said.
“It provided us with a bubble where we could isolate ourselves, no matter where we were.”
The motorhome provided a different kind of lifestyle but eventually they made the decision to return to Australia, driving back into Italy just in time.
After overcoming the seemingly impossible challenge of finding affordable flights, the family needed to figure out how to set up their lives in Brisbane again.
They posted on their personal Facebook page, asking friends if they might have spare items such as beds.
That’s when Mr Mirto’s friend Naomi Dorland stepped in.
Furnished via Facebook
Ms Dorland took it upon herself to source items for the family’s home, posting a call-out on a local “Buy Nothing, Sell Nothing” Facebook group for the areas of Wilston, Windsor and Grange were she had given away a lot of her own things.
She explained the family’s situation and was “inundated with people wanting to help”.
“[People donated] everything from furniture to full cutlery sets,” Ms Dorland said.
“We even got two laptops donated.
“The generosity of the community is just mind-blowing.”
While the family battled the last leg in hotel quarantine on the Gold Coast, Ms Dorland was zipping around Brisbane picking up items from countless donors, taking the time to talk to each person about the family.
“It was pretty big,” Ms Dorland said.
“I actually had a notebook that just didn’t leave the side of the computer and I threatened my twins and my husband with dire consequences if they decided to take my notebook — I just had pages of information.
“My husband spent the weekend driving around with a trailer for things I couldn’t fit in the back of our car.”
Among the essential items, there were also thoughtful gifts such as books for Mr Mirto’s 11-year-old daughter who is an avid reader.
“She reads a book a day,” Ms Dorland said.
“I got a beautiful bag of unbelievable books, just the perfect genre, the perfect age, absolutely immaculate condition.
“She was just absolutely thrilled.”
Easier giving help than asking for it
While in quarantine, Mr Mirto’s phone was buzzing with alerts of different donations that had been received.
“I can’t even express my gratitude.”
People were so eager to help, it got to a point where they could choose between offers leaving them feeling touched but also a little awkward.
“I have a much easier time giving help than asking for it,” Mr Mirto said.
“So it feels odd, in a way, to receive so much.
“It’s heartwarming and it’s basically incredible.”
Mr Mirto said while moving to Italy was intended to be a learning experience for his daughter he had no doubt she had taken something away from this experience as well.
“I think it’s something that will stay with her for a long time.
“It seems surreal that so many people got involved in just helping complete strangers out.”
Now without the added financial stress of having to source and buy anything, Mr Mirto has been able to start up his business sooner.
“They really released a lot of financial stress,” he said.
“Thank you, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”