Les Restos du Coeur haven for poor for 20 years

22nd December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 22 (AFP) - Exactly 20 years after it was founded by one of the country's best-loved comedians, France's 'Les Restos du Cœur' charity has grown into a national institution — this Christmas providing food once again for hundreds of thousands of the urban poor.

PARIS, Dec 22 (AFP) - Exactly 20 years after it was founded by one of the country's best-loved comedians, France's 'Les Restos du Cœur' charity has grown into a national institution — this Christmas providing food once again for hundreds of thousands of the urban poor.

But what was originally intended as a one-off campaign to help the homeless is now offering long-term relief for whole new categories of deprivation.

"These days our beneficiaries range from the young to the very old. Many are mothers of families. Increasingly we are even seeing people coming who actually have jobs," said Dominique Lobjois, a member of the charity's national bureau in Paris.

"What they have in common is that they are having to choose what to spend their little money on: a roof over their head or food to eat. They do not have enough for both. It's different from Coluche's day but the scandal is just as serious," he said.

Coluche — real name Michel Colucci — died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 41 in early 1986, just months after launching his 'Restaurants of the Heart'.

An irreverent clown who honed his act on the cabaret circuit, the comic was also a sharp-spoken social critic and earned the adoration of millions for his humorous diatribes against the establishment. Earlier this year he was voted the fifth "greatest ever" French personality in a television poll.

Today Coluche's spirit still presides over the charity, just as his mischievous features beam down from posters in its 2,000 distribution centres and feeding points across the country.

"Without what Coluche gives me, I do not know how I would manage," said Jihan, a woman in her fifties collecting a basket of food from a centre in eastern Paris — apparently unaware that the great man is dead.

The Rue Erard centre typifies the charity's shift of emphasis towards families and the "sheltered" poor. While 'Les Restos du Cœur' does still provide hot meals for the down-and-out, the greater part of its work is issuing basic foodstuffs to the needy.

In Paris — where rents have rocketed in recent years — the demand is ever-growing.

A queue of people — mainly women and mainly of north or sub-Saharan African origin — snakes past a mountain of milk-packs (a gift of the European Union) and on presentation of a coupon baskets are held open to receive fresh fruit and vegetables, pasta and various tinned goods.

One of Coluche's greatest legacies was to win posthumously the EU's agreement to make available part of its massive surpluses. He also gave his name to a 1988 law under which private citizens get tax relief on charitable donations.

Today some 40 percent of the 'Les Restos du Cœur' budget comes from the public — and a further 20 percent from concert and record sales for an ad-hoc group of performers known as Les Enfoires. Including household names like Jean-Jacques Goldman and Johnny Hallyday, they meet once a year to raise money for the charity.

"I thank God we have 'Les Restos du Coeur' to raise our morale a little," said Djahel Hayat, a 32 year-old French woman of Algerian origin who -- after paying for accommodation -- lives with her two children on some ERU 500 a month.

"At least here there are people to help us, with a smile and a hello. It picks us up. Especially when you see that most of the people here are foreigners. Here we can forget the discrimination. Here we feel at home," she said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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