“The most shocking thing I saw were young people lining up at the food bank. They were wearing their work uniform: an Uber food delivery vest.” A quote from someone I heard on the radio this week. The irony. Young people delivering food to others on scooters and bicycles, most always at night, but not having enough themselves to eat. A note to Uber Eats users? Tip generously.
Also this week: standing in a shopping mall buying myself a ham and cheese baguette sandwich, I heard a soft voice beside me – “Excusez-moi. Would you have one or two euros so that I could buy something to eat?” I turned my head to see a woman, well-dressed, in her fifties. She looked embarrassed at having to ask such a question. She was French.
“Bien sûr“, I said. I bought a second ham and cheese baguette sandwich. Walking back to the office, I thought – That woman could be me. She could be YOU. She could be all of us. No job, not enough money to eat, no one or nothing to fall back on.
Last night after work, I stopped off at Marks & Spencer to stock up on food (for myself) for the weekend. I passed a young woman sitting on the floor with a small sign asking for food or money. Inside M&S, I bought a hot pizza and a drink and gave it to her as I walked past on my way to the metro.
I no longer judge. I used to, but these are hard, hard times. “Unless you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, do not judge.”
It can happen fast. You lose your job through no fault of your own (redundancy. restructuring. Or a pandemic called COVID). Your unemployment benefits run out, you can no longer pay your rent or mortgage payments. Or you fall ill and can’t pay your medical bills. Or you’re a student and just have no money and you’re alone. Every homeless or hungry person has a valid story to tell (and it always begins with family.) Those from the Middle East? Their stories begin with war, displacement or persecution.
You have no family to help out, no loving parents whose home you can return to until you get back on your feet.
France has a generous safety net, but it’s being stretched to the limit. And benefits last for only so long. One of the reasons I live in France is because of that safety net. Because you see, I have no family. My loving parents died in the 1990s. Had they not died, I would’ve moved back to Toronto a long time ago to be close to them. I have an older sister – married, well-off – but we’re estranged. The last time I saw her was in a lawyer’s courtroom in Toronto in 2000.
There are so many wonderful, hardworking charities, associations and organizations the world over. For every Christmas or Hanukkah gift we buy this year, let’s donate to a charity as well!
La Fondation Abbé Pierre
Les Restos du Coeur
Le Secours catholique
La Croix rouge française collects clothes, toys, blankets.
The Secours Populaire Français (SPF), or the French Popular Relief, dedicated to fighting poverty and discrimination.