Today I sent out 250 meals within one hour. No reservations had been made. Nobody ordered. Nobody paid.
Let's take a step back to explain. For the last two years my mind had been totally absorbed by my career change. Continuous struggle with the new environment. Questioning whether I had taken the right decision. Working inhuman hours for a ridiculous salary. Since I left HP and Grenoble and my life #1 I had to put aside some of my habits, hobbies, activities that were part of it, in order to survive the beginning of live #2. But I think a couple of months ago I made a big jump, and eventually found the capacity to look beyond a restaurant kitchen again.
Part of my desire has also always been to volunteer and help other people who are not as lucky as I am to live a better life. My father and my sister are both medical doctors and it is not that I wish I had taken their path, but somehow I envy them that they are giving so much of themselves to save other people's lives, to help them to live with less pain; to lead a longer and better life. It is something that is missing in my life. So when a couple of months ago I had overcome the biggest hurdles of my new life, I felt I had the energy again to give also to others and not focus exclusively on myself.
The most obvious way of giving should also be related to food for me. After all the key motivation for my career change had been to bring happiness to other people with my food. So it was a no-brainer to choose to join "Les restos du coeur" , the restaurants of the heart.
Les restos du coeur is very popular French humanitarian association, founded by the French comedian Coluche in 1985. He set up the distribution of free meals to the poorest people, a program that continued even after his tragic death in a motorbike accident shortly after the first winter of the Restos du Coeur. Today a lot of celebrities support Les restos du Coeur, and raise funding in a yearly big TV concert. Even our famous beautiful Carla, the French president's glamourous wife, donated the 60000 Euros she got in a lawsuit against Ryanair (for showing her picture in advertisement) to Les Restos du Coeur.
So since a couple of weeks I have spent my Saturday evenings together with a couple of other regular volunteers to distribute hot meals to the poorest people, who often don't even have a place to live. I didn't write immediately about this activity, because in the beginning I was not really comfortable. People who come to the meal distribution, which takes place outside, are not requested to present ID or justification. Anybody can come, and I was told to follow some rules strictly to avoid trouble. There can be any type of people with all types of education background, some are drunk, some sleep under a bridge, some just got out of prison, some just come for the social aspect without taking a meal. Some people were indeed agressive, but most of the time those evenings have been good experiences, and I try to keep a big smile, a bonjour, a bon appetit for everybody, and I am happy when I can see from time to time a smile returned. I read in an article recently that after all volunteering is as much selfless as it is selfish, because it makes you feel good about yourself. I guess this is true. In this case it makes me also feel good about my life conditions. When you can go back to a warm home, after having spend a couple of hours with people who can't afford to buy food, or don't even have place to stay when it is freezing cold outside, you know how good your own life is. It is a healthy reminder every Saturday night.
Today, after two months of participation, I was "awarded" a badge with my name. Les restos du coeur want volunteers, that are reliable and come regularly. So I had to "prove" first that I am serious about regular participation, before being officially "accepted". Some of the other volunteers I met, go to the same place for meal distribution, every Saturday night since more than 6 years !
More infos about "Les restos du coeur" on their (French) website :