THIS year’s “Restos du Coeur” campaign has been launched amid worry that it will struggle because of the economic crisis.
The charity was started in 1985 by the comedian and one-time presidential candidate Coluche and is run by a national association as well as departmental ones around France.
Its main aim is to distribute free food to the needy, with a big push each winter from December to March.
This year’s winter campaign was launched in one of the 2,000 Restos (restaurants) du Coeur centres – a large warehouse in Paris where beneficiaries come to collect food parcels which contain items needed for a balanced family meal. In line with modern guidance on healthy eating, volunteers now make sure each pack is at least 65% fruit and vegetables.
Restos president Olivier Berthe said that this year there were about 10% more people signed up to receive help and food prices had gone up.
“We are calling for a huge effort for solidarity, otherwise we won’t cope,” he said.
Celebrity supporters – like singer and impressionist Liane Foly or singer-songwriter Maxime Le Forestier - are helping the charity call on the generosity of an estimated 460,000 donors and 51,000 volunteers.
Work Minister Xavier Bertrand has added his support, saying “Coluche’s call to action still resonates.” The government is giving €5 million towards this year’s appeal.
One volunteer in Paris said most recipients were from ethnic minorities. They include many retired people who, he said, were often embarrassed to collect their parcel, but were obliged to as they struggled to buy food after paying their rent.
The Restos helped 700,000 people during last year’s campaign and provided 91 million meals. The food comes from donations, bulk purchases and EU surplus.