Solidarity a side-effect of France's Covid-19 crisis

Where you can look for local help as a 'wave of good neighbourly actions grows into a tsunami of solidarity'

21 March 2020
By

Helping neighbours and people in the Covid-19 front line, supporting older residents, and even giving blood are just some of the ways groups are showing solidarity in the lockdown.

Charities are reporting huge rises in numbers of people volunteering to help during the stay-at-home period.

Many help networks have been set up for years, but newcomers arrived when the pandemic broke out and President Macron called for solidarity in his TV speech.

They have different ways of working, offering download kits of help ideas, a website for people to ask for or offer help, or just a note with phone numbers on a noticeboard.

Most concentrate on neighbours, but En Première Ligne website is to help those directly involved in keeping life going in the pandemic.

The site will last only as long as the lockdown and was set up by three friends to offer help to health workers, power workers and food suppliers if they need it.

One founder, Titouan Galopin, 25, said: “We all had the idea when we heard Macron’s speech and spent a weekend putting it together.

“Everyone can help their closest neighbours and that is great, but they can do more and reach out further to people they don’t know.

“Organisations help more vulnerable people in society but there was a gap for those in the front line we thought we could fill.”

The response amazed him: “In three days, 30,000 people signed to volunteer, 300 families asked for assistance, and we have matched 200 with a volunteer to do shopping or care for children.

“Everyone is reacting in a positive way, which shows people want to take part and do something useful.

“We may translate the site into English as we think many foreigners in France might like to join.”

Cancer carers offer wider help

The Cancer Support France charity, which provides support to English-speakers touched by cancer, is expanding its brief to give help more widely during the Covid-19 crisis.

Any English speaker who is elderly, vulnerable, isolated or has health problems can make contact for emotional and practical support.

Support cannot be in person due to confinement restrictions but will be given by phone, email and social platforms. The expanded service will be undertaken by CSF’s trained Active Listeners, as well as volunteers from their membership and professionals willing to work in a voluntary capacity.

CSF associations are in regular contact with current clients to maintain support levels and in addition is working to ensure the well-being of all volunteers, members and supporters.

CSF President Pat Lockett said: “We want to offer moral support to people who feel isolated. It makes sense to us to offer this in these unprecedented circumstances.”

Contact: CSF National Helpline on 0800 240 200 or email helpline@cancersupportfrance.org

A notepad and pen are all it takes to help

Even long-established charities such as Les Petits Frères des Pauvres are finding new ways to get involved, especially with the extra challenge of the lockdown.

Older people living alone are particularly vulnerable and Les Petits Frères has had a long tradition of visiting them in their homes. Now they must keep some distance. Instead, they keep in touch by phone, by sending postcards, or offering to do the shopping.

Meryl Le Breton says they have been inundated with people wanting to become volunteers or seeking advice on how best to help.

“Now that the general public has to stay at home, people have suddenly realised what it must be like for all those who are in this situation all year round. We have heard lots of tales of people acting on their own initiative.

“We posted one woman’s message on Twitter because it was the kind of action we would like to encourage.”

The note, written in pen, simply says: “Dear neighbour, with the coronavirus pandemic we must all stay at home, especially the oldest and the most fragile.

“If you need any shopping (or want to have a chat), you can call me on [paper with her number to tear off] while respecting the regulations.”

Ms Le Breton said that if no similar aid was available, anyone alone who did not know who to turn to for help should phone the mairie to be put in touch with a local group or service. 

‘Voisins’ kits create new community links

Around 100,000 people downloaded a Covid-19 kit in just five days after the Voisins Solidaires website was set up by Atanase Périfan, founder of the annual Fête des Voisins neighbours parties.

The kit contains several varieties of poster and a handout giving tips on how to help.

People can fill in their names and contact details on the posters if they want to offer or receive help.

Mr Périfan said: “We decided to give people tools to get things started as a recent survey showed 83% are willing to help but don’t know how.”

He got the idea from Mr Macron’s speech on inventing “new ways to create solidarity between people” and said: “That is happening.

“I can see a wave of good neighbourly actions growing into a tsunami of solidarity which I hope will continue after this crisis.

“If we can find any happiness in this tragedy, this is it.”

He said he came across an example as he walked home.

He said: “I heard a young man shouting in the street ‘Hey, I’ve got your shopping’.

“An elderly woman opened a window on the second floor and let down a basket on a string, which he filled with her provisions.”

More places to look for support

Mairies often organise special help and Bayeux in Normandy is publicising its social services email for over-70s with no family nearby or home help to get someone to do their shopping. ccas@mairie-bayeux.fr

The Bordeaux mairie helpline goes beyond shopping requests and has parents asking for help printing school work or looking for games for children with no entertainment. jeparticipe.bordeaux.fr 

The Nextdoor website, founded in 2011, works in many large towns and has a special page with offers of childcare, help for the vulnerable, and aid for frontline workers. fr.nextdoor.com

Half a million people are on the Smiile site and its Covid-19 page saw a 300% rise in sign-ups in a week. Founder David Rouxel said it offered aid, but kept a distance. smiile.com

Finally, do not forget that the blood donor service needs help year-round. Although some older Britons generally cannot give blood, many younger ones can. Book a time and it is classed as a medical appointment for getting out of the house. dondesang.efs.sante.fr

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