Queues for food handouts in Helsinki have decreased significantly following the decision to ask recipients to show their Finnish Kela social insurance cards.
In the spring of 2013, soup kitchen operator Heikki Hursti got tired of hearing that some of the food from his charitable organisation was being resold and that some visitors regarded his breadline as a free canteen.
Lines increased from day to day, with up to 3,500 people queuing for a free meal. Some of those in the line-up did not speak a word of Finnish.
“We want to help everyone without discrimination, but I must admit that it felt like a strange situation,” says Hursti.
When they began asking those in line to show their social security card, queue size dramatically diminished, recalls Hursti.
“As soon as we asked for Kela-cards from those waiting in line, the queue shrunk. Eight hundred people left immediately. Now, on the worst day, we have 2,400 customers,” says Hursti.
Hursti is following in his father's footsteps and took over the charity started by his parents social activists Veikko and Lahja Hursti in the 1960s to distribute food and clothing to the needy.
Whether it's a sign of less need or not, lines have become shorter this summer in Hursti's soup kitchen and others in the Greater Helsinki area. There has never been a shortage of food, so that doesn’t explain the decrease.
Previously, there has been a spike in the breadline run by the Herttoniemi church when changes have taken place at Hursti's soup kitchen.
That wasn't the case this time, even if no questions were asked and those coming for a free meal at Herttoniemi don’t need to show a Kela or other identity card.
At its peak, the line-up has been 2,000 strong. But this summer, those in need of assistance has steadily been around 800 according to the Herttoniemi church.