'I never thought I would have to come here': crisis drives French to food banks

PARIS (Reuters) – Natalia, 34, had a good job in a Paris bakery, but when the coronavirus lockdown forced it to shut, she was furloughed. With loans to pay and a family of four to support, she found herself where she thought she’d never wind up: the food bank.

Even though France has made it through the worst of the coronavirus lockdown, charities say workers hurt by the economic crisis are still in dire need of help. And if a second wave should hit in the autumn, they are warning of serious hardship to come.

“I’m not embarrassed, but it’s too bad we can’t get by on our own,” Natalia told Reuters outside a food bank run by charity Secours Populaire in Houilles, a suburb of Paris.

Though she was able to go back to work two weeks ago, business at the bakery is still dire and Natalia is worried she could lose her job for good at any moment. For now, she still relies on groceries from the charity to keep food on the table.

“What scares me is how are we going to get by if there is a second wave?”

Hamza, a student from Morocco, earned his livelihood giving maths lessons to high school pupils. Lockdown in March left him with no income.

“I don’t have any more resources available. So I come here, at least I get something to eat,” he said. “I would have never thought I’d have to come here.”

Charity Restos du Coeur says it is feeding 20-30% more people than normal since the crisis hit in March. Staff say stories like those of Hamza and Natalia are now typical, whereas once they rarely would see students or working people.

Government officials have said that as many as eight million people might need food aid by the end of the year, a number food banks say they are not prepared to cope with.

“If the pandemic comes back in autumn on top of all the unemployment, it’ll be an explosive mix,” said Restos du Coeur head Patrice Blanc.

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