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Metallica, other good Samaritans pitch in 200,000 euros to rescue Helsinki food aid charity

A well-known Helsinki charity providing food parcels to locals in need has received around 200,000 euros – enough to operate until the end of the year.

Hurstin valinnan leipäjono Helsingissä.
People queue for food at the Hursti charitable foundation. Image: Pasi Peiponen / Yle

The Hursti charitable foundation that provides food aid to Helsinki residents in need of assistance has managed to raise some 200,000 euros from donors.

The food bank said the much-needed funds will allow it to continue providing food packages, at least until the end of the year. According to foundation head Heikki Hursti, back in May the US heavy metal band Metallica had stepped in to donate some 29,000 euros.

Another major donor was National Coalition Party politician Harry “Hjallis” Harkimo, who promised to stump up 30,000 euros over the period August – September.

However the bulk of the financial lifeline for the organisation has come from ordinary folk – during a six-month period businesses and individuals dipped into their pockets to contribute towards some 200,000 euros to help support people down on their luck.

According to Hursti, this represents a record sum for the foundation. He added that typically, donors contribute between 80,000 and 100,000 euros over the course of a year.

“Although, the sum from Metallica was great, I also appreciate tremendously the private individuals who responded so overwhelmingly to help in the current economic environment. We’ve had a massive number of bank transfers coming in – more than usual,” Hursti noted.

“It feels like there’s been a real popular movement. I’m very touched and grateful to everyone,” he added.

Early last winter it seemed that the future of Hursti’s food aid programme hung in the balance. Although the fresh cash infusion will ensure the organisation’s existence to the end of the year, Hursti said that he is also hopeful that it will be able to continue helping beyond that.

“Once there are hungry people we can’t stop. But of course we also need those who can help,” he commented.

Monthly costs in the tens of thousands

In spite of the financial lifeline, the Kallio-based operation will still need considerable sums just to cover fixed costs such as rent, electricity, salaries and transportation, which total up to 30,000 euros a month.

Years ago, a decision by the city of Helsinki to reduce annual funding for the foundation's charitable work threw a spanner in the works. Hursti said that he plans to reach out to Helsinki Mayor Jan Vapaavuori to discuss some kind of long-term cooperation.

“In my view it would save face for the city to be genuinely involved in helping [people], rather than just delivering nice speeches. When the city cut funding by 50,000 euros three years ago, it resulted in us having to constantly find it from somewhere else,” he explained.

“It’s terrible that they say we are doing important work but then they pull the rug out from under our feet. It doesn’t feel good.”

According to the online news outlet Helsingin Uutiset, city officials had pledged to support for the foundation until the end of the year. The city has plans to clear bread lines off the streets and replace them with sit-down meals for the needy.

The Hursti foundation has suspended food distribution for the summer vacation period. However Hursti said that he won’t be taking a break, but will be spending his time paying bills and organising food deliveries in preparation for resuming food handouts on 8 August. The Hursti family have been involved in charitable work since 1916.

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