FOODBANKS across the region need more support than ever, as they prepare to deal with record demand this winter.

Last December, food banks operated by the Trussell Trust handed out more than 10,400 parcels in the North-East, 4,400 of which went to children.

Problems with Universal Credit, welfare reform, ill-health and increasing struggles to access support services mean that an increasing number of people are at risk of going hungry this Christmas, experts say.

The Trussell Trust’s 2018 statistics reflect a 43 per cent rise in distribution in just a year - yet they still do not reflect the real scale of the problem in our region.

The true number of food parcels handed out to those in need is likely to be far higher when considering that the Trussell Trust have just 12 foodbanks in the North-East, where scores of other charities, community groups and organisations also operate their own.

Demand on already stretched services is expected to increase throughout the winter, with the Trussell Trust saying 2019 had already seen a rise of more than a quarter in the number of foodbank parcels handed out on their behalf.

To help those in crisis this Christmas, members of the public are urged to do what they can to support their local foodbanks.

Donations - especially of long-life food such as tinned food, pasta and cereal – would be welcomed by local organisations, many of whom are in need of volunteers to assist them with distribution and other necessary tasks.

The Trussell Trust is also calling on the next Government to “work towards a future where no one needs a foodbank” by ending the five week wait for Universal Credit; ensuring benefit payments cover the cost of living and investing in emergency support for people in crisis at a local level.

Emma Revie, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration – but for too many people in the North East it’s becoming harder and harder to keep their heads above water.

“Nine in ten of us believe hunger in the UK is a problem – food banks cannot and should not have to continue to pick up the pieces.

“We know many people want to help their local communities at this time of year. There are two simple things you can do to make a real difference.

“First, find out what items your local food bank is most in need of and donate as soon as possible. Then help us end the need for food banks for good, by asking all your local candidates up for election to pledge to protect people from hunger by making sure everyone has enough money for the basics.

“It’s not right that anyone should have to use a food bank at any time of year – not just at Christmas. Our next government must start working towards a future where no one needs a food bank.

“It’s not inevitable that every Christmas we hear stories about families needing food banks. It’s in our power to reach a future where everyone has enough money for the basics. This can change.”

Most of the parcels handed out by the Trussell Trust in December 2018 were distributed in Tyne and Wear, with 2,695 collected in County Durham, 888 in Stockton, 640 in Redcar and 589 in Middlesbrough.