The comedian and actor coluche
The comedian and actor Coluche launched the idea of the Restos du Cœur on 26 September 1985. "I have a little idea, a bit like this... If there are people who would be interested in sponsoring a free soup kitchen, we'd start first in Paris and then spread to France's big cities." The first of the Restos opened on 21 December and soon multiplied all over the country. The goal of the founders was to give away 2,000 to 3,000 meals per day; 8.5 million alone were distributed the first winter. The initiative was supported by a song written by the songwriter and singer Jean-Jacques Goldman called 'Les Restos du Cœur', which included some of the lyrics being sung or read out by other celebrities. A televised show allowed the organization to collect several million francs.
Coluche pleaded for the Restos' cause at the European Parliament in February 1986 after learning that surplus products cost more to store than to distribute for free to the poor; his plea was heard and the surplus was opened in 1987 to four organizations.
France has a huge housing problem and it is charitable organizations like this that stops hundreds of homeless people dying each winter.
The National Organisation
Founded by the comedian and actor Coluche in 1985, "Les Restos du Cœur - Relais du Cœur" is a voluntary association as defined by the French association law of 1901. Recognised as being of public interest, its goal is to help the neediest and to fight social marginalisation.
It is a founding member of the Committee of the Charter of Deontology of Social and Humanitarian Organisations, a group of associations created to check their financial transparency. It owns the name and logo of the Restos du Cœur.
Every year, the general assembly elects its governing body, which in turn chooses the president and the board from its members. These put in motion the policy of the Restos, as defined by the general assembly, when meeting once a week. The national organisation's goals are:
- to centralise the purchases and to supply the departments with food;
- to encourage the departmental organisations to get involved in the reinsertion into society of their beneficiaries, and to support them in their endeavours to do so via technical and financial support;
- to ensure the training of volunteers;
- to look over the consistency of their messages thanks to the policy officers;
- to control and consolidate the accounts of the departmental organisations, to look after their well-being and respect of the rules;
- and to ensure communication between the Restos in general.
The Departmental Branches
The 113 departmental organisations can be found throughout 96 departments. Legally autonomous, they operate upon the same principles as the national organisation (general assemblies, governing bodies, boards), and are bound to them due to a contractual agreement.
The departmental organisations manage, animate and coordinate activities on the ground with 40,000 volunteers in almost 2,500 Restos, which welcome 600,000 beneficiaries a day. Their aims are to carry out all food aid, lodging, workshop (such as the Jardins du Cœur - "Gardens of the Heart"), and cultural activities.
All these reinsertion programmes exist to help make beneficiaries become like anyone else. Under the heading of "reinsertion into society", one finds several different kinds of activities whose scope goes:
- from workshops to gardens,
- from trucks doing nightly rounds in the big cities to long-term lodging solutions,
- and from cultural activities to picnics.
Though the soup kitchens remain the most visible face of the Restos, they alone cannot ease the exclusion of those benefiting from their existence. Reinsertion is therefore considered top priority.
The "Les Restos demain" ("The Restos, Tomorrow") survey, which polled more than 13,000 beneficiaries and volunteers from 1998-1999, confirmed the need to evolve and reinforced the will to go farther with the beneficiary-volunteer partnership.
A Need for Clarity
The Restos du Cœur are attentive to the good use of the funds provided by donors and public organisations. As an organisation essentially financed by donors and public funds and with its activities carried out by volunteers, its overheads are generally very low (around 8% of resources), and unnecessary expenses are eliminated. The invitations to tender enables getting the lowest prices. In this way, 90% of financial resources are devoted to activities.
Conforming to the legislation, the accounts of the organisation are inspected by auditors. The occasional drift by some local groups were sanctioned and transmitted to the courts.
Voted in 1988, the loi Coluche ("Coluche law") innovated by permitting small donors (the most numerous) to benefit from the same tax breaks as big donors. Its last amendment permits donors to get a tax break of 75% for a donation of up to 470€ (euros). Above that, and within a limit of 20% of income, the tax break is of 66%. Each donor receives a tax form on whose back an accountant will have done all the necessary calculations for a tax break, and a document stating how the money given will be used by the Restos.
The Restos du Cœur have benefited financially from the help of the European Plan to Help the Neediest (Plan européen d'aide aux plus démunis; PEAD) since 1987. The organisation worries about the menace to stop the renewal of this fund.
There are many different kinds of donors:
- From children to the elderly, from artisans to multinationals, from housewives to stars, they are, in their own ways, the surest supporters.
- Those who generously give their services (loan of buildings, transport, printing...) or participate in authorised protests, which are strictly regulated financially and legally.
- Those who give money by buying an Enfoirés CD (les Enfoirés are an annual concert given to raise money for the cause), by bequeathing their goods or money, or by giving up their copyright over a work.
- Those who give goods (books, clothes, food, hygiene products...).
However, the following are all forbidden:
- fundraising or garage sales,
- commercial operations without the consent of the Restos du Cœur,
- and direct-mailing for the purpose of financial canvassing, apart from those from the organisation itself.
The first campaign for the Restos du Cœur in 1985 netted 5,000 volunteers. Today, there are more than 40,000 of all backgrounds with one point in common: generosity devoid of political or religious points of view. Their actions are based on the Volunteers' Charter, whose 6 guiding points guarantee the good working order of the organisation. To fulfill their mission well, each volunteer goes through a training period enabling them to learn the techniques necessary for their missions. Two professional trainers and some experienced volunteers give seminars where volunteers from all around France gather. Classes about the following subjects are imparted:
- managing a Resto;
- welcoming people who no longer try or want to get help;
- accompanying those who ask for moral support;
- helping those who have trouble paying rent on the places they have finally gotten;
- and teaching at a workshop or a garden.
Coluche knew that the best way he could help the Restos was to present his own image and those of his friends. In one winter, he created the Enfoirés around this idea.
On 26 January 1986, Coluche presented a show on national television that lasted all afternoon. Gathered was an exceptional group of people: politicians of all stripes, presenters from all the TV channels and radio stations, and all kinds of artists and sports stars.
Since then, every year an Enfoirés concert has been held to encourage people to donate to the Restos du Cœur. It has become a very popular event. Each year, the media explain the goals of the organisation and remind people of where they can donate or volunteer. The Enfoirés themselves support the Restos by giving up the profits from the concerts and albums of said concerts.
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