Gilets oranges feed the world all year round
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WE HAVE heard a lot recently about the gilets jaunes – but it’s good to hear too about the gilets oranges. They work for a little-known but vital charity that collects food from supermarkets and farmers, then distributes it to the needy in a co-ordinated network across the country. This is the Banques Alimentaires, which provides half the food given out for free in the country every year. It ensures that two million people get decent meals they would not otherwise be able to afford. With around 100 warehouses across the country, it relies heavily on its 6,000 volunteers, the gilets oranges, who make up 90% of its workforce. The organisation, the first food bank in Europe, was set up in 1984 and modelled itself on initiatives in Canada and the US. Sister Cécile Bigo issued an appeal in the newspaper La Croix: “Man has invented ways
of going to the moon. Cannot his heart invent a way to put an end to food waste and feed all of humanity?” President Jacques Bailet, himself a volunteer, says that not many people realise the huge logistical effort behind fetching and sorting the food: “The aim of our organisation is to fight both against food waste and lack of food for some people. “Unlike other organisations, such as Restos du Cœur, we do not buy any of our food. We collect 113,000 tonnes every year, of which 73,000 tonnes would otherwise be destroyed. “For example, a supermarket cannot sell a bag of clementines if one of them is rotten. But we can open the bag and use the good ones. “Supermarkets place orders for ready-made sandwiches every morning, but the sandwich makers cannot know what the order will be in advance and so they make more than necessary.
Above and right, volunteers sort fruit and vegetables at a Banques Alimentaires store Sometimes we can pick up as many as 4,000 sandwiches which would otherwise be thrown away. We also get food when the public donate during national collection days.” Mr Bailet says the work of the association saves a needy household €92 a month on average, which is vital to help the poorest people meet their bills at the end of the month. He says being a volunteer with the Banques Alimentaires is rewarding: “I find I meet people I would never have met otherwise and it is something that we enjoy, as well as helping others. We welcome all
kinds of skills, from driving lorries, working with computers, logistics, sorting food or going to companies to persuade them to hand over their food waste to us. A centre may be processing 4,000 to
5,000 tonnes of food a day so we always need help. “You can come for half a day a week or every day... just whatever suits you.” You can sign up to volunteer at giletsorange.fr.
Volunteer sapeur pompier’s lot is surprisingly happy one The Bordeaux Women’s Club is seeking new members
Old US wives’ club now embraces every woman Bordeaux Women’s Club (bordeauxwomensclub.org) aims to help international English-speaking women meet and adapt comfortably into French life and culture. President Margo Durand said it is harder than people think for women arriving in Bordeaux from all over the world to settle in. She said: “It can almost be even more difficult for French women coming back from a period abroad, because everybody expects they will have a life waiting for them here, but it is not often the case. “We have members from 25 different countries. It is super and makes it very international and interesting.” She says that members have to speak English fluently: “The more comfort and reassurance you have within one group, the more confidence you then have to join French activities.” The club was founded in
1951 and was originally a US officers’ wives club, but Mrs Durand says they are proud that the club still exists even though the American army has left Bordeaux: “The club adapted when the few American women left decided they wanted to continue.” It is strictly female-only: “This is for historical reasons but we have decided to keep it this way. It is good to have one club just for women because together they support, empower and understand each other.” Members can join in a range of activities including a cinema group, book clubs, local visits, wine tasting, a walk-and-talk group, and one for women to practise their French. Neighbourhood groups have developed for people who live outside the city, to make it easier for them to meet up. Membership costs €30 a year and Mrs Durand said new members are always welcome.
FRANCE’S sapeurs pompiers fire service would love to attract more volunteer recruits. Volunteers can be of any nationality as long as they live in France, and the organisation is keen to point out that they do not have to be young, muscly supermen – just people in basic good health. Marie-Françoise Woodward has both French and British nationality and joined four years ago when she was 47. She says being a volunteer firefighter is an amazing thing to do: “I love it more than I could have imagined. “You cannot deny the basic usefulness of it and you feel you are doing something completely significant. “It is a great way of becoming integrated, because you are part of a team and you help people in your community.” She joined when she realised she needed to learn more about first aid. “It is remote, where I live in the Lot, and when my daughter was ill and had difficulty breathing one night, I had to wait for two hours for the doctor. The nearest hospital was half an hour away. “A friend said a lot of sapeur pompier work is first aid-based and persuaded me to join.” Some 73% of sapeur pompier work is as an emergency ambulance service. Only 6% is for fires, 6% for road accidents
The forgotten story of brave Ulster nurses in Great War
THE remarkable story of a group of nurses from Ulster who set up a hospital in France to look after soldiers during World War One has been turned into a book. Author Claire McElhinney (above) was inspired to write after discovering her grandmother was among the group. She wanted to highlight women’s roles in the war as she says most of the stories from the time focused on fighting men. She said: “I hope my book will help redress the balance, shedding new light on the story of pioneering women from Ulster and letting my grandmother Edith and her fellow volunteers have their voices heard 100 years on.” Many young women in Ulster were already trained in first aid because they feared civil war. They volunteered as soon as the Great War broke out. The UK declined their offer of help as it thought the war would soon be over. However, one of the women had contacts in France so, not wanting to give up, they applied to the French, who were short of nurses and said yes. Their first 80-bed Ulster Volunteer Hospital was in Pau. The women also cared for German soldiers at a nearby PoW camp. In 1916, they were moved to Lyon and looked after French soldiers returning from the battle of Verdun. The hospital was funded by donations from Ulster but in 1917 it had to be disbanded. Claire said of her grandmother: “She died when I was two, and none of her family ever asked her about her time in France. She came back to be a farmer’s wife and had eight children. My uncle did tell me French homework was always easy because his mother helped him, but he never asked why she knew the language.” Tell Them of Us was funded by the Ulster-Scots Agency. For a free copy (just pay p&p) call 00 44 28 90 436710/email info@ ulster-scots.com.
Marie-Françoise Woodward became a volunteer at the age of 47 Colonel Yves Marcoux is and 15% for other activities, responsible for volunteer firesuch as responding to natural fighters in the Lot and says 930 disasters. out of 1,000 people working for New recruits face 35 days of training. After the first 10 days, the sapeurs pompiers in his department are volunteers. which focuses on first aid, vol“The country could not unteers can go on-call. afford to have round-the-clock Mrs Woodward said: “We professionals on duty for many carry a pager with us, which stations. We are always looking tells the station whether we are available or not. For example, if for new members.” Volunteers must be on call I am alone at home with my children I will not be called up. for one weekend and a few nights every month. You need “If I am free, as soon as I get to live within 10km of a fire the call, I drop everything, get station and speak French well. in the car, go to the station, change, find out what the mission is and we’re off. “We are usually a team of The Connexion regularly features news and events from four with an experienced chief community groups all over France. We would be pleased to and when we get to the scene publicise your association (non-commercial) – it’s a great way we have to make a medical to bring in new members and it is free! You can submit events assessment, give first aid and via connexionfrance.com/Community To have your association/ decide whether to take the group featured, email details to firstname.lastname@example.org person to hospital or not.”
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