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French food aid NGO reports ‘explosion’ in demand

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2012-12-29

The head of a French food aid charity has called on the public for help in coping with the steep rise in the number of people needing food handouts, raising concerns that the economic crisis is biting hard among the poor in France.

A plea for help by the head of a French charity, struggling to cope with an “explosion” in demand, has raised further concerns about the increase in poverty in France.

Olivier Berthe, president of Restos du Cœur (Restaurants with Heart), which hands out food parcels and hot dinners to those most in need, has implored donors and the government to come to its aid and help them cope with a massive rise in demand.
 
Just one month after launching its annual winter campaign, the charity has reported a 12 percent rise in the number of people coming through its doors, which, according to Berthe, represents an extra 100,000 compared to this time last year.
 
“It’s not a rise, it’s an explosion,” Berthe told French radio RTL this week. “These are figures that we are not used to seeing.”
 
Berthe has called on the public to help them deal with a crisis that he predicts is only going to deepen.
 
“We know that the situation we are in is going to deteriorate and we will have to take measures to manage it. If our donors do not react then we will not be able to cope,” Berthe said.
 
In the winter of 2011/2012 the charity distributed 115 million meals compared to just 8.5 million in 1985, the year it was launched by the French comic actor Coluche. 
 
EU funding vital to help feed the poor
 
Restos du Coeur is backed by figures from French showbiz who regularly help in fundraising through taking part in TV shows and pop concerts.
 
But Berthe believes the French government now has the most vital role to play in helping the charity provide for the growing number of hungry beneficiaries, who can no longer afford to feed themselves.
 
He has urged lawmakers to fight hard to make sure the European Union does not cut funding for its food aid program, which pays for around one quarter of all the meals handed out by Restos du Coeur. Private donors, public grants and fundrasing initiatives account for the remainder.
 
But the €500 million budget for EU food aid could soon be slashed by member states. Restos du Coeur are just one of several food aid charities in France calling for European leaders to back down.
 
“It seems that the government is trying to compromise with Germany or England,” he said. “It must demand the food aid program is extended.”
 
Berthe’s appeal comes at a time when the French government is under pressure to act to deal with the growing problem of poverty.
 
A recent public opinion survey revealed one in two French people saw themselves as being poor or at risk of becoming poor in the future.
 
Earlier in December Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced the government would stump up €2.5 billion over five years with the money to be spent on a range of measures including welfare benefits, housing aid and youth employment schemes.

Date created : 2012-12-29

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