I am in the fortunate position of having free time on my hands, something which I’m sure I will be very nostalgic about in years to come so I decided to get involved with “Les Restos du Coeur.” Started in 1985, every year this charitable organisation distributes 109 million meals to nearly 1m people living in poverty in France. Food for thought when you consider that France is hardly a third world country.
So last week I headed to the Restos du Coeur headquarters in Porto Vecchio. For three months of the year, a ramshackle former garage is turned into a food distribution centre for people struggling to make ends meet. Strategically placed buckets in the event of heavy rain, a cacophony of christmas decorations and copious amounts of strong coffee capture in essence Restos du Coeur: it doesn’t claim to be a panacea for poverty with big patronizing gestures but it’s about people doing what they can, to make light of a difficult situation.
Voluntary work has a habit of restoring your faith in humanity. As I arrived looking dishevelled and very much a foreigner (I am still resisting wearing a coat, its 19 degrees in the daytime which I consider tropical) I was warmly greeted by a truly Corsican man who waved and shouted emphatically at every utterance and a woman who spoke four languages within ten minutes,
It’s easy for poverty to hide behind the façade of luxury villas, yachts and throng of four by fours tearing through a town sometimes referred to as Corsica’s St.Tropez. The increasing rich poor divide is certainly not a predicament unique to Porto Vecchio; but perhaps the problem here is sharpened by flocks of tourists descending on the island every summer with their bottomless bank accounts. The double edged tourism industry has undoubtedly created extraordinary wealth whilst pricing out those left behind.
Food shopping is no exception. I struggle to spend less than 35 euros a week on basic items and having managed to track down tinned tuna for 30 cents last week, it’s fair to say I’m not someone with especially extravagant tastes. Admittedly I’m yet to open it, if the truth be told I’m scared about what may lie inside.
The diversity of people signing up for food donations bares testimony to how indiscriminate poverty can be: a woman whose husband walked out leaving her and her four children, , young families unable to pay for rent let alone wrapping paper this Christmas and immigrants trapped in a social security catch 22.
Whilst climbing inside a chest freezer to scrub down the sides and developing mild repetitive strain disorder from lifting 100 cartons of milk from the back of a van, I realised there is a tendency to lose touch with other real living, breathing, human beings. Self checkouts, computers, email and facebook don’t lend themselves to interaction and opening our eyes to problems sitting on our doorstep.