Utah professor extends helping hand after earthquakes hit Italy

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FARMINGTON, Utah -- Crumbled buildings, lives lost, futures in rubble—when disaster strikes, everyone sees the aftermath.

“We all have that, you know, soft spot in our hearts where we want to extend a helping hand, and sometimes if we don’t nourish that thought, it just dies out,” says Guiliana Marple.

Marple, a professor at the University of Utah, was raised in Italy, and after a recent series of earthquakes in that country she couldn’t let her soft spot fade.

“So this is basically what it looked like, the city of Camerino,” Marple said, showing a photo of the devastation.

She gave up her Christmas break and joined the Italian version of the Red Cross to help the people devastated by a series of massive earthquakes.

“Walk, hold their hands, everything that a human being does when someone is hurting and suffering,” Marple said.

She lived in a tent, served food and went to red zones closed off due to the danger—all the while, surrounded by people rebuilding their lives.

“I hardly ever saw a smile, it almost seemed like they were a bunch of ghosts,” she said. “People who had died inside who were walking without much of a soul.”

Through games of cards and moments of music, connections began to grow. Then, finally, the bright smile of Cristina.

“It was just, like that, overnight you lost everything: How can you smile?” Marple said.

Buried in the rubble of Camerino is Cristina’s dream, a small pastry shop.

“She simply said the earthquake destroyed the walls of my pastry shop, not its soul,” Marple said.

With time running out for Christmas break, one hour with Cristina inspired a new soft spot in Marple’s heart.

“We’re all connected like a big human chain,” Marple said. “You never know. You never know when someone is going to knock on your door and extend a helping hand.”

Marple is flying Cristina to Utah and helping her rebuild. She is hoping both their stories inspire others to listen to the voices in their hearts.

Cristina will be baking and selling pastries while here in Utah through Café Torino at Station Park in Farmington. The money she makes will help rebuild her life, and hopefully her pastry shop in Italy.