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Free food at "poor man's ball" attracts hundreds in Helsinki

Despite rain and strong winds, hundreds of Finns queued up for free food on Sunday at the Hakaniemi market square. The food was offered by the Veikko and Lahja Hursti Charitable Trust, an association run by Heikki Hursti, son of erstwhile charity great Veikko Hursti. The event is meant to serve as a counterpoint to the President’s glamorous televised ball.

Ihmisiä sateessa ja tuiskussa Veikko ja Lahja Hurstin Laupeudentyö ry:n perinteisessä itsenäisyyspäivän linnanjuhlassa Hakaniementorilla Helsingissä 6. joulukuuta.
The Veikko and Lahja Hursti Charitable Association was founded in 1983. Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

The first people arrived at the square in Hakaniemi early in the morning before the food distribution began. By midday a queue of hundreds of people had appeared, eager for the free grub.

"Yesterday evening I thought should I cancel the whole thing when I checked the weather forecast, but it's gone really well," says Heikki Hursti, executive director of the charitable organisation founded in the 1960s by his father Veikko Hursti and his wife Lahja.

Attendees were given pea soup, sandwiches, juice, coffee and sweet buns. Some fifty volunteers joined in to help organise the food distribution.

"We are in a privileged situation," says Hursti. "People start calling us in October, asking if they could help. We have more volunteers than we can take."

Situation is getting worse

The crowds do not surprise Hursti, because the number of people in need of help has gone up throughout the years.

"I think the situation is getting worse and worse. All the news about cuts and reductions are certainly not going to help," says Hursti. "I started this work ten years ago, and there are now ten times more people in need. Every time we arrange a distribution we get more than 3,000 people. It's a staggering figure."

Many who came to Hakaniemi on Independence Day have partaken of Hursti's charitable offerings before.

"I like visiting. It's a chance to meet friends, too," says Kielomarjut Miettinen from Helsinki.

Hursti's charity distributes food and clothing to needy people in Finland all year round from its distribution point on Helsinginkatu, in the Helsinki district of Kallio.

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