Twenty nine years of heartfelt charity

On any given day, 15 to 16 volunteers out of about 30, are working at the Dabray Street centre.
On any given day, 15 to 16 volunteers out of about 30, are working at the Dabray Street centre.

The Restos du Coeur lauched their 29th winter campaign on Monday

The ‘Les Restos du Coeur’ charity has started its winter campaign to feed the poor for the 29th consecutive year. Each winter, it is increasingly difficult for the association to provide for the needy, and this year alone around one million people are expected to seek food assistance throughout the country.

According to Jean-Pierre Hoen, head of the central Nice branch in Dabray Street, an additional 10 to 15 per cent of people register for meals every year. Last winter, this centre alone provided for 650 families averaging 3.2 members. In other words, over 2,000 people were given six meals a week from November to March.

French comedian Coluche created the concept in 1985, mainly to feed the hungry. At the time, 5,000 volunteers signed up. Last year the workforce was 66,000 strong, working in over 2,000 centres across the country. Their efforts would have been fruitless without the 83 million euros in donations from 556,000 people, which helped serve 130 million meals over the winter.

The Restos du Coeur isn’t only about the food, however. Sevices have been diversified over the years. “Giving food is our basic requirement, but what we do is closer to a community centre,” says Jean-Pierre Hoen. “We have a coffee area where people can talk, we provide some childcare services as well as diapers, baby powder among other things. Last year we started a theatre group which we’re going to develop this year, and now we even have a hairdresser.”

The World Giving Index has ranked France the 17th country in Europe in terms of charity donations, but the French are much more prone to lending a hand as volunteers. 29 percent of them report taking part in some form of volunteer activiy, ranking France fourth in Europe.

Like many of the volunteers in the Dabray Street centre, Corinne, a mother of four, decided to lend a hand after she found herself having to seek the services of the Restos du Coeur for food. “It was a wake-up call,” she says.

For David, a retired 71-year-old from Nice, “it feels great to know that you’re making yourself useful.”

But the situation is getting harder over time. The Dabray centre, at just under 300 square metres, is too small for the increasing number of people in need of help, according to Mr. Hoen. “[Mayor] Christian Estrosi and [Alpes Maritimes General Council President] Eric Ciotti came yesterday to express their support, but neither of them is doing anything to help us find a bigger place,” he says.

The donations service can be reached at or by phone (01 53 32 23 27). For those who wish to volunteer, all related information can be found on this website.

Also published on the Riviera Times Online