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Restos du Coeur winter campaign opens but funds too low to help all

The charity says it is relying on the generosity of donors and faces having to turn away some people coming for help

Restos du Coeur provide 35% of food aid in France Pic: EQRoy/Shutterstock

Les Restos du Coeur, France’s largest food bank charity, has launched its 39th food distribution campaign.

The food aid charity, which provides up to 35% of food aid nationally, warns this year will be particularly difficult due to rising food prices and that it may have to refuse new applicants.

“150,000 people may not be accepted," Patrice Douret, president of the charity, told France Info. "We are going to have to turn people away. Between 5% and 10% of the people welcomed last winter are refused food aid this year," he added.

The association is currently receiving applications from potential beneficiaries for their latest campaign which launched today (November 21).

The food portions distributed will also be reduced – over the course of a week and per person, it will go down from six meals to four.

Inflation reached 4% in October, according to data from the state statistics agency Insee, with prices for energy (+5.2%) and food (+7.8%) seeing a sharp year-on-year increase. 

Read more: Chart: See how France’s inflation compares within the Eurozone

Emergency plan requested 

Restos du Coeur supported 1.3 million people in 2022-2023, compared to 1.1 million the year before. The increase in demand is from all groups, including single mothers, retirees, and students and in all departments. 

Currently 60% of French households live on less than €550 per month, while Resto du Coeur’s budget for food purchases, which are then redistributed free of charge to recipients, has doubled because of inflation.

As a result, for the first time in its history, the charity has had to lower the level of income that qualifies for aid.

To get through this difficult period, it is asking the government to set up an emergency food plan, "by increasing the budget dedicated to food aid associations to €200 million, compared to around €150 million today," the association said in a press release.

The charity previously had to launch an appeal in September as it was €35 million short of breaking even. 

At the time the government granted it an additional €10 million, the family of billionaire Bernard Arnault, owner of LVMH, offered €10 million, and the rest of the money came from corporate and individual donations.

Read more: Restos du Coeur: Why issues at France’s biggest charity have hit hard

The charity’s history 

Comedian and actor Michel Colucci (1944-1986) – better known as Coluche – was famous for his trademark hairstyle and his irreverent and often profane sense of humour - but his lasting legacy is the Restos du Coeur.

In 1985, he launched the association to provide homeless people with meals during the winter. He made the announcement on the radio in a famous speech that began “I have a little idea...”

Less than a year later, aged 41, he died when his Honda 1100 was involved in a collision with a truck on a road near Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes). 

An annual fundraiser was established that still runs today, staged every January. The event – and linked annual charity single – raises about €10 million annually for the Restos du Coeur which has grown into a massive organisation, almost totally run by volunteers

Read also: Five words that began a charity revolution in France

Generosity of donors

The association is always looking for more people to help, especially in the run-up to Christmas when it needs people to wrap presents in supermarkets in exchange for donations.

To become a volunteer, go to the Restos du Coeur website, www.restosducoeur.org, and contact the association in your department.

Read also 

Map: Where in France do people give most to charities?

Homeless in France get accommodation in offices when workers go home

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