January 4th saw the launch of this year’s Pièces Jaunes campaign, which will run until 11th February. The scheme is now in its 23rd year, having begun way back in 1990. So what is it? It’s a way of raising funds for the Fondation Hôpitaux de Paris-Hôpitaux de France. Children are issued with a cardboard tirelire (piggy bank) and asked to put all the pi__è__ces jaunes, loose change, that they come across into it. At the end of the period, they take the money box along to the nearest branch of La Poste and hand it over to an unfortunate employee there who will have to count it out, buttons, fluff and all.

It’s a winner though, and most years raises upwards of 3.5 million euros. The money is put to excellent use. Altogether, over the years 6,650 child and adolescent-centred projects in 615 hospitals in 443 towns have been funded by the cash raised this way, including providing equipment, doing up and redecorating numerous wards, playrooms and nurseries, and establishing daycare centres and also 50 maisons des adolescents – places where troubled teenagers can find a sympathetic ear.

The foundation’s president is Bernadette Chirac who has bravely been promoting the event on TV and radio these last few days. Inevitably she’s faced questioned on her husband’s activities (he was recently handed a 2 years suspended prison sentence for misdemeanors arising in the early 1990s when he was Maire of Paris, in case you hadn’t heard), but she’s managed to stay focused on promoting Pièces Jaunes. Good for her, it must have been tough.

There are two high-profile parrains (sponsors/promoters) – singer and comedienne Lorie and footballer Christian Karembeu. Their job is to help publicise the campaign and get the kids on board.

There’s a website here and it has some fun pages for kids here.

As we know, cigarette cartons have health warnings, but the Pièces Jaunes money box goes one better and carries a morality warning, informing its owner that they are not to ask for money on the street! However, I imagine every year some overenthusiastic youngsters are to be found brandishing them at strangers. What harm.