At 108, rue Curial, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, a queue forms on the sidewalk. Laughter and cries escape from the main door, where the volunteers of the association Une chorba pour tous are busy. Because Thursday, at 1 pm, is the day of the distribution of parcels.
Almost 30 years of sharing
This association is not a novice in food aid. Founded in 1992, its objective was to create a moment of sharing, festive, to break the fast at the end of Ramadan. “Even then, it wasn’t just Muslims. I remember a certain Roland who said: “Arab soup is good, Madam,” ”says Samia, a volunteer. “When we are hungry, we are hungry. The stomachs have no color ”, jokes Abdenour, the president.
I immediately recognized the smell. So I asked if I could help, I was handed a knife to cut the vegetables. I haven’t moved since. Saliha Volunteer for ten years
Like most charities, Une chorba pour tous was not intended to last. But demand grew rapidly and activity continued. “In the 1990s, there were up to 1,400 meals served per evening, under the marquee, in three courses,” says Abdenour. When you push the doors of the association, you can’t imagine staying there for very long, and then finally, 20 years later, you’re still there. Saliha is the perfect example. “
Volunteer for 10 years, the latter entered the former premises of the association, rue de Crimée, attracted by the good smell of chorba. “I recognized the smell right away. So I asked if I could help, I was handed a knife to cut the vegetables. Since then, I haven’t moved, ”she recalls. In addition to good humor, Une chorba pour tous, it is also and above all the distribution of food parcels, hot meals, marauding, and this, throughout the year. But also support, support in French and English, one-off gifts for children …
On the ground, some 220 volunteers … and hundreds of beneficiaries. © Sadak Souici
In the entrance of the building, the boxes are stacked, already ready since the day before: cereals, biscuits, water, pasta, preserves, soups, sacks of semolina… “There is everything, it’s good and it’s quality ”, remarks Lisa
, recently beneficiary. Every week, 27 or 28 families collect their food parcels. “When’s the next time I come?” A woman asks. Families can come every other week, which represents around 400 people helped at the same time.
” Like at home “
Retirees, single women, families, refugees… “The profiles are very different. All are referred to us by the social workers, who send us a file on their situation. Together, we define a period during which we can come to their aid. For example, a woman with seven children, we will help her longer than an elderly person alone. We consider that it cannot be eternal, they must give way to others, ”explains the president of the association.
Saliha and Mohammed, she volunteer and he employee, complete the baskets with fruits and vegetables taken out of the refrigerators. They add a few elements according to the profile of the families: hygiene kits for women, diapers and milk for those who have babies… “At the moment, we are also distributing fabric masks that we were given. “
Sometimes the kids leave with candy, like Mario
, 5 years. “The children love to come here, they are all spoiled”, confides his mother, Maria.
. Beneficiary for several months, she does not know what she would do without this help: “We are a family of six, I have no work, and my husband is struggling to find one. Sometimes he does the markets and construction sites, but, with the Covid, it is even more complicated. “” We feel like at home here, they are all great “, adds Cédric.
accompanied by his 13-year-old son.
Donations are welcome
Donations are welcome to fill these many food baskets. “The association works mainly thanks to private donations. Before, we received a lot of subsidies, especially from the Île-de-France region. But when Ms. Pécresse (LR president of the regional council – Editor’s note) arrived, she deleted everything, ”laments Abdenour. Food donations are also very important for Une chorba pour tous. The association organizes one-off collections in supermarkets, and also receives donations from individuals and professionals. It is Mohamed who takes care of this part: “On Mondays and Fridays, I will collect something to fill the parcels in five stores. And there is also the food bank. “A former volunteer, he is now an employee of the association and defines himself as” the handyman: driver, bouncer, direct seller “…
Physical distancing, wearing a mask, reducing interactions … the association has put in place reinforced hygiene measures. © S. Souici
Once the last families have left, the volunteers have a few moments of respite. But, from 4:30 p.m., everyone is active again. You have to load the truck for the distribution of hot meals. The two large pots of 120 liters each have been on the fire for 13 hours. The smell of the evening menu has perfumed the whole room: it will be lentils and mutton. “We vary the menus every evening… It’s important to cook well. And, says Youssef, the cook, it has to be good! “It must also be very consistent,” continues Samia. In winter, it is even more important. In summer, when it is very hot, we opt for large mixed salads. “
A well-established organization
As every day, from Monday to Friday, “rain, snow, wind or storm”, the whole team takes to the road, heading for the exit of the Jaurès metro station, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. On the premises, the queue is already established. “There are volunteer beneficiaries who are present before our arrival, they set up the barriers for the queue. Some have been waiting since 4:15 pm to secure a meal, ”says Abdenour. Those who were not yet there rush at the sight of the association’s truck. For many of them, it’s the first meal of the day. The volunteers are busy, the organization is well established. The tables are in place, everyone is at their post. Mohamed gives the green light. The women, only four or five, and the old people waiting on the bench go first. The cutlery, then the bread, a piece of fruit, sometimes a dairy product, and finally the hot dish. “They almost all stay nearby to eat. Some people hurry to finish so that they can iron a second time if there are any leftovers, ”smiles Nicolas, a volunteer for a year.
At 5:30 p.m., everything is already over. Volunteers pick up the last tables. The beneficiaries finish their meal. “Thanks and see you tomorrow” are linked. “Then, some will eat at another distribution, which takes place at Porte de la Villette. Others go to reception centers for the night. Tonight, 300 hot meals and 175 baguettes were distributed. “Today was very calm, as it has been for some time now. Since the dismantling of the camp in Saint-Denis, we have seen fewer people, ”notes Samia. When there is a crowd, violence sometimes erupts between the people who come to collect their meals, because there is often not enough for everyone. For these dedicated volunteers, it is a heartache every time you have to turn someone down because there is nothing left. In “Jaurès” the profiles are varied. “There are a lot of exiles, it’s the neighborhood that wants that. People who live on the streets, but also elderly people who just don’t have enough money to find housing and food, ”explains Nicolas. “Once I even saw a little student. She asked me where to register to be able to eat, ”recalls Samia.
Go to those who dare not
On Saturdays, there is no distribution of hot meals at the Jaurès metro, but marauding. For the past few months, volunteers have been organizing themselves to provide the homeless in the 19th arrondissement with what they need. “It is especially young people who do it, it is the next generation,” says Abdenour. At seven or eight, they meet in the afternoon to cook. “From the beginning of the evening, the volunteers bring meals, but also hygiene kits for the women or even blankets, socks …” Some people will never come to ask for help, even if they are in need. The marauding is good for that: it is we who go towards them ”, continues Nicolas.
With the health crisis, the situation has worsened for many of them. “During confinement, there was a queue of 700 to 800 people in front of the room. The police force repeatedly wanted us to shut down, but they were told that was out of the question. People were hungry, ”recalls the president, who notes that, in recent months, the association has faced more and more requests. “When we want, we can, it’s the collective that is the strength. But we can’t do everything either. Sometimes, people arrive at our door, they are hungry, but we have nothing left… ”At the association, all fear the explosion of poverty to come in the coming months:“ 9 million poor people, they say, laments Abdenour. No, there are at least 12! ”