The call from the president of Restos on Sunday resulted in numerous pledges. But the other associations are also suffering from the combined effect of rising prices and bills, and the influx of new applicants.
The president of Restos du Coeur was the first to alert, Sunday, September 3, by evoking on TF1 the 35 million euros missing from the budget of his association. But it is the difficulties of an entire sector, that of food aid, that this intervention has brought to light. The Red Cross lifted the veil Monday on its own difficulties, estimating its deficit between 45 and 50 million euros this year. Without advancing an amount, the Food Banks, the Secours Populaire or the Secours Catholique also testified to the weight of inflation on their activity.
This raises questions about the sustainability of a whole system that more and more people are using. “Does Bernard Arnault have to write a check every year?”ironically with franceinfo Jean Stellittano, national secretary of Secours populaire, in reference to the 10 million euros paid by the first fortune of France to the Restos du cœur.
Less unsold food
The network founded by Coluche distributed 170 million meals in one year, or 30 million additional meals compared to the previous 12 months. These figures put forward on Sunday by its president, Patrice Douret, not only illustrate the efficiency of restaurants, but also and above all the spectacular increase in demand. Over the same period, food prices increased by 11.1%, according to INSEE.
Same observation at the Red Cross, where the upsurge in requests dates from 2022 (+22% compared to 2021), but is confirmed this year (+9.3% in the first half). At Secours populaire, Jean Stellittano believes that the number of beneficiaries has increased “from 20 to 40%” according to local branches. He is alarmed to see people arriving who are theoretically free from hunger, such as employees or even owners: “They twork at the hourly rate of the minimum wage, or part-time, and do not get by with fuel which borders on 2 euros, energy prices, and +20% for certain basic food products”.
To meet these new demands, associations need more products. If all have their networks to get supplies, donations are rarely enough. “We have been seeing a decline in the quality and quantity of foodstuffs for several years now” from unsold supermarkets, says the Red Cross to franceinfo.
Associations caught in the middle
The anthropologist Bénédicte Bonzi, who followed the work of food aid for five years to draw the book Hungry France (ed. Seuil), sees this as a deleterious effect of the law against waste adopted in 2016: “It allows supermarkets to sell products for longer. Start-ups have been created to offer them new outlets. The foodstuffs that are finally donated to associations are given later, sometimes too late to be consumed”.
To meet the needs, the associations turn to the market and they too become victims of inflation. “This winter, we have gone from an average of 2.5 million euros in food orders per week to around 5 million euros”explain the Restos du Coeur to the Figaroa figure that reflects the double increase in quantities and purchase price.
Food aid is trapped“a scissor effect”, summarizes the Red Cross. This highlights problems that go beyond food: its energy bill “increases by 45 million euros” in 2023 due to inflation, including 25 million which remain at its expense despite the aid schemes. The NGO says it has “repeatedly alerted the public authorities to this bill, which puts the whole (of its) activities”. Fuel prices are also a burden for structures that have to manage numerous deliveries, and sometimes transport beneficiaries who do not have the means to own a vehicle or fill its tank.
“Four bricks of milk rather than six”
Each association copes in its own way, but none can completely spare its beneficiaries. While the Restos du Coeur plan to tighten the conditions of resources, excluding 150,000 people from its distributions, the Secours populaire refuses to sort out the applicants, but will reduce the quantities, explains Jean Stellittano: “A mother of two will leave with four cartons of milk rather than six”. The national secretary fears that this crisis marks a step back in the association’s desire to provide “better products and supporting local agriculture”.
“We can no longer continue to buy tomatoes from the local market gardener for 3 euros per kilo.”Jean Stellittano, National Secretary of Secours Populaire
Secours Catholique, for its part, refuses to compromise on the quality of what it sells in its solidarity grocery stores, “a matter of dignity” according to its president, Véronique Devise. But its teams at the local level will be able “to arbitrate” when they do not have the means to help everyone who asks for it. The organization itself will not be spared the difficult choices. “We are reflecting on our internal functioning”she concedes.
In this difficult context, “Volunteers are angry and frustrated”, warns Jean Stellittano. How to get used to the idea of not refueling everyone? Before the price spike, the anthropologist Bénédicte Bonzi observed the teams’ desire not to harm anyone, even if it meant “cheating on certain papers to pass families” not fulfilling the criteria set at national level. But this generosity requires that we still have food to give. Today, the lack of resources places these volunteers in an unprecedented situation of constraint.
“Placing volunteers with the fact of having to say no is not self-evident. They are not administrative agents. They are there to say yes.”Bénédicte Bonzi, anthropologist specializing in food aid
The researcher fears that this new position will expose them to the anger of certain applicants. And deepen the crisis of vocations that these associations have already observed since the Covid-19 pandemic. This psychological cost is added to that of inflation, which does not spare volunteers, especially those who were beneficiaries before committing themselves. “People who have managed to get out of extreme precariousness find themselves in difficulty to move around”points in particular to Véronique Devise, who explains that Secours Catholique “began to compensate” some of them.
State measures expected
Since Sunday, the Restos du Coeur have seen donors as diverse as the first fortune of France, Bernard Arnault, the players of the French men’s football team and the pasta brand Panzani rush to their bedside. The Minister for Solidarity, Aurore Bergé, announced that 15 million euros were “on the table” to help the association founded by Coluche, a sum which comes largely from a program from which the Restos would have benefited anyway, recognized the ministry with Release.
The emotion caused by Patrice Douret’s cry of alarm should not overshadow the problems of the entire sector, warns Jean Stellittano, national secretary of Secours populaire. “This should not siphon off the generosity of the public to the detriment of small associations”, who also suffer. According to France generosities, the sector union, France has lost 11.2% of donors in ten years, mainly among those who sent small sums, due to “more constrained budgets”.
In this troubled context, it is impossible to rely on the generosity of the public, believe the associations in the sector, which are awaiting answers from the State, after having asked in June to be received by Emmanuel Macron. Beyond their budgetary concerns, they hope for measures to fight against the poverty that is pushing more and more people into their offices. “We are asking for an increase in the RSA which allows people to go and buy their own food”and the tripling of the energy check for the most modest, explains Véronique Devise. “The vocation of humanitarian associations is not to help employees get through the month”insists Jean Stellittano. “It is a public service delegation that is being put in place. The State must absolutely help the French, so that we can return to aid for the most deprived.”