The first time is always difficult. Finding yourself in line with dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, waiting in the cold and darkness to pick up a bag of food is shocking to many. They quickly get used to it, and for some it is already routine.
“I have no choice,” said Rayane, a 22-year-old film student, a few days ago, as he stood in line, like every week for months, along with another half a thousand students in front of a food delivery center in Paris. “The bag with food gives me two days to eat well, three days maximum. It is a formidable help ”.
The queues of students in front of free food distribution points have become one of the images of France in this phase of the pandemic . The images make visible the precariousness suffered by a part of the 2.7 million students in France. But they also show the existence in this country of solid safety nets (from the State to the NGOs) to alleviate the most urgent needs.
“As a student, it is a bit difficult to pay the rent and to eat,” sums up Lise, from Marseille, also 22 years old, and a second-year photo and video student in a private center. “Right now it is difficult to find work. I’m lucky because my family helps me, but the standard of living in Paris is high, and even finding an apartment is difficult ”.
Some are here because they have run out of the jobs they need to pay rent or shop at the supermarket. Others, twenty-somethings who are starting to fly alone, are reluctant to ask their parents for money, or seek a more varied diet than the “days and days”, as Lise says, of pasta and rice.
The delivery, organized by the Linkee association, offers, twice a week, a package with dishes cooked with meat or fish and fruit and vegetables. In the packages there is leftover food that, if not distributed, would go to the garbage, and also dishes cooked by chefs of restaurants closed by measures against the coronavirus.
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“We are facing an audience that is not used to, or that did not expect to ever find themselves in a precarious situation,” explains Julien Meimon, president of Linkee at the student premises next to the Paris ring roads where every Monday and Thursday last October, distribute the bags with food. “Many students had little jobs. They lost them during the first confinement. Our task is to help them get through this moment ”.
Student queues in Paris and other French cities are a political problem for President Emmanuel Macron . The successive confinements (between March and May, and in autumn) interrupted the face-to-face classes and led to the closure of many university facilities, unlike the schools and secondary institutes, open since June.
In a country where many students live far from their parents, in shared residences or flats, the pandemic limits opportunities to socialize and have fun, and also to learn face-to-face with teachers and classmates.
“They don’t leave the room, there are no classes,” says Sophie Berman, a recently retired psychologist who, with other colleagues, has come to the Linkee delivery center to lend a selfless hand. This Monday he interviewed four in an office upstairs. “We ask them how they are, I try to listen to them and find solutions.”
To the psychological consequences are added the economic ones. With the closure of bars and restaurants, jobs traditionally held by students have disappeared . “It’s hard to be 20 in 2020,” Macron admitted in the fall. “I will never give lessons to our young people. It is they who live a terrible sacrifice. Canceled exams. Anguish over his training. Anguish to find the first job ”.
In January, during a meeting with students, the president expressed the wish that each student can return to the classroom once a week. And he announced that they will be able to consume two meals a day at one euro each in university restaurants. Until now, the price for non-scholarship students was 3.30 euros per meal. Macron also announced the creation of the so-called psi check to finance the visit to the psychologist or psychiatrist.
Feres Belghith, director of the Student Life Observatory, explains that, in the years before the pandemic, the percentage of students who said they were going through financial difficulties remained stable. With the pandemic, it increased.
According to a survey by this institution, 33% of students say they are going through financial difficulties and, of these, 16.8% say they suffer more difficulties now than in normal time. 19% have reduced essential purchases.
The report of the Observatory of student life confirms that the financial difficulties are much greater for foreign students, without French access to state aid and far from their families. “Paris is expensive, and I don’t think I have bought many vegetables, and here they give us,” says 24-year-old Czech Katerina, an Erasmus student, while waiting her turn at the Linkee association. “Without this, I would have a pretty monotonous and unhealthy diet.”