The poor and the invisible behind the GP

The "Works of Sister Mary": assistance to indigents and lonely old people. Concrete charity and fund collections. Distant from the limelight

"It is widely believed that in Monaco there are only rich people, but this does not reflect the situation of the population of Monaco": Michèle Michel, president of the volunteering association" Works of Sister Mary told SIR, "which provides assistance to the elderly in need. "As everywhere else in the world, even here there are people who have very low wages" and who are struggling to make ends meet. Most of them are foreigners or retirees who have worked "without always been fully put in order and now have modest pensions," says Ms. Michel. The Work of Sister Maria helps them pay the rent ("and they don’t live in luxury homes", she pointed out) or subsidizes the service of meals at home or domestic help, or even extraordinary expenses for the dentist or hearing aids. Of course those who will come to Monaco for the Grand Prix of Formula One on 24 May will not notice anything. But even here there are those who ask for help, "as everywhere. And we give it." The basket and the kermesse. The project is an initiative of Sister Marie, religious from the congregation of Saint Vincent de Paoli who entered shops and markets of Munich with a basket for the collection of food and clothing that she redistributed to the needy. Then 78 years ago she had the idea of a charity fair where the collected items could be resold and the proceeds given to the poor 78. Over the years this business has grown in importance and in 1974 was founded the Association of Sister Mary, run by lay volunteers. The festival is held every year in the month of in April, under the big top of the circus in Monte Carlo, for two days. "We always collect between 80 and 100 thousand euro", said the President Michel. The initiative is independent, "and it never asked for government subsidies." The only help that comes from the State of Monaco is the free concession of premises to collect the goods gathered during the year which is then sold in the 38 booths of the fair: clothes, books, games, antiques… "Some consulates, such as Belgium, Italy, Greece, Russia, Romania, set up their own a stands where they sell the products of their countries "and the proceeds go to our Charity. There is also a group of ladies who during the year make sewing projects, which are also put on sale at the festival. " Michel pointed out: "It isn’t a flea market full of shoddy goods. It’s something that works very well!". Redistribution among old people. "The money collected is our main resource that we use to pay the rent or expenses for the elderly. Thus "after having paid the costs of the circus tent, because it is not free", the money is set aside for various initiatives: "Three times a week we organize a picnic and recreational activities for the elderly not necessarily in economic difficulty as it is a moment of conviviality, to spend time together, to celebrate their birthdays, or festivities like Christmas and Easter." Even loneliness is a form of poverty. "Twice a year we prepare 150 packages of aids for people in need of help signalled by our social workers to are familiar with the situations and needs of these people. We have no direct knowledge of the true needs." For a few years already the Sister Mary Charity has been offering summer holidays in the mountains for those who can’t afford it, who verify the situation and real individual needs." Associations in Monaco such as the Lyons club support the initiative. How many poor are there? Before the request of data on poverty in Monaco it hasn’t been possible to gather precise information, since the statistics office "has no possibility of examining the incomes of the citizens of Monaco and therefore we cannot submit accurate figures on people in economic difficulties", Stephan Laforest de Minotty, from the government’s press office, told SIR. To this regard, the government’s adviser for health and social affairs Stéphane Valeri, said: "The social policy of the Government of the Principality is intended solely for Monegasques and residents of the Principality in need. The latter are helped by the social services of the state and the municipality and benefit from a wide range of supports. "All means "are put in place to protect the population of the Principality." In fact institutional websites feature a list of social benefits for the support of old people, single parents … however, it’s impossible to know the exact figures. "The city is kept well, there is not one beggar in the streets are they are not allowed, but also here there are problems", confided in our meeting the chairperson of the Sister Mary Charity. Not even Madame Michel knows the extension of the problem: "We care for Monegasques old people, but in Monaco there aren’t Monegasque citizens only."

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