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Restos du Coeur expect record year

Winter food distribution campaign starts today, with high turnout expected in rural areas hit hard by economic crisis

WELFARE charity Les Restos du Coeur is predicting a record number of people will come to the group for help this year due to the economic crisis.

The charity launches its 25th winter campaign today, with 2,000 centres around France handing out 100 million free meals to the needy until March 19.

The group helped 800,000 people last year - up 14% on the previous year - and that number is expected to rise again.

Rural areas including the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Jura are expected to see a large increase in turnout . However Restos du Coeur president Olivier Berthe said it was often difficult to open centres in the countryside due to local politics.

He told Aujourd'hui en France: "Often the local councillors step in. They will say: there are no poor people here, or yes you can open a centre here but only for our residents and not those in neighbouring areas."

The economic crisis has hit the group's finances, with government and European aid for the charity expected to fall by a further 15% in 2010.

The charity is raising cash with a series of concerts in Nice at the end of January and a can-rattling weekend in hypermarkets across the country on March 5 and 6.

The Restos du Coeur was set up by comedian and one-time presidential candidate Coluche and is run by a national association as well as departmental ones around France.

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