Les restos du coeur: an anniversary
I can’t quite believe it, but it’s 25 years since the organisation les restos du coeur was founded by Coluche – that absurdist gadfly of a comedian. Coluche – Michel Colucci – was born in Paris in 1944. Although he died in 1986, he remains a vivid presence imprinted on the national psyche and last year’s excellent biopic directed by Antoine de Caunes was a huge success. As for the restos these are not restaurants in the true sense, more centres where those in need can go every week between December and March each year to obtain a weeks’ worth of basic foodstuffs. Registration is straightforward and brief, clients have merely to show basic evidence of income/outgoings. Much emphasis is placed on treating all comers with respect and kindness, and the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly.
From relatively modest beginnings les restos du coeur grew rapidly, and there are now 2,000 centres throughout France. This year the organisation expects to hand out 100 million free meals between December and 19 March. Last year 800,000 people were helped in this way – an increase of 14 percent on the previous year, with even more expected to present themselves at the organisation’s centres this year.
Despite its réputation bling-bling (sic) the département where I live (the Alpes-Maritimes) is especially hard hit by poverty – and especially this year, with unemployment at around 14 percent according to some estimates. Stratospheric rents ensure that homelessness is a growing problem. However, government and EU funding for les restos du coeur has been reduced and next year a drop of about 15 percent is anticipated. A series of fundraising concerts are being held in Nice at the end of January to attempt to redress the balance.
What a pity Coluche himself couldn’t be there: it would be just the kind of event – and battle – that most feisty of clowns would have relished. He died 23 years ago in a banal motorcycle accident in the hills not far from here – but what a legacy he left behind him. And how much comedic savagery he would have derived from what would surely have been an uneasy emotional combo of pride in the organisation he founded and disgust at the extent of its growth. I have a fanciful suspicion that Coluche can’t possibly be resting in peace …
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