NORTH-EAST food banks have seen over 50 per cent increase in demand, data shared by the Trussell Trust reveals. 

Foodbanks in the Trussell Trust’s network across the North-East provided more than 64,000 emergency food parcels to people struggling to afford essentials between April and September.  

Over 23,500 of these parcels were provided for children and these figures mark a 51 per cent increase on the same period last year.  

 Emergency food parcels are typically a three-day parcel with emergency food for one person but during the crisis, seven-day parcels have also been given out.

More than 1.2 million emergency food parcels were given to people struggling to afford essentials by food banks in the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network between April 1 and  September 30 2020, making it the busiest ever half-year period for food banks.

Of this, over 470,000 parcels went to children. This marks a 47 per cent increase on the same period last year.  

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, praised communities in the North-East for "stepping up".

The Northern Echo: FOODBANK: Food packages are given to families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

She said: "Volunteers in food banks have been working hard under extremely difficult circumstances to make sure support is there for people struggling to afford essentials. But it’s not right that any of us are forced to a charity for food, at any time of year.   

“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen incredible compassion and concern for people facing hunger following Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaigning. And it's hugely welcome to see the government build on steps already taken by providing significant new funding for local councils in England.

"This vital local support must work in coordination with a national welfare system that is strong enough to act as a lifeline to anyone struggling to afford the essentials."

While the figures highlight the level of need across the UK, the charity warns their new figures do not include the number of people helped by the countless new community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities, which have stepped up during the pandemic to support their communities.  

King's Church Foodbank in Darlington, where there are no Trussell Trust foodbanks, has also seen an increase in use through the pandemic. The meals it provides to struggling people, like other independent food banks, are not included in the latest figures.

The Northern Echo: Darlington students volunteering for King's Church FoodbankDarlington students volunteering for King's Church Foodbank

King's, which distributed donations to other independent food banks across the borough, has given out 6,006 parcels so far this year, totalling 68,748 meals. 

Last year, the organisation gave out 6,334 parcels. This means it is well on track to surpass year's total as in December 2019 alone it gave out 538 parcels.

A parcel generally consists of seven hot meals, though this has been increased nine or ten through the pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the foodbank, who expressed concern over the expected increase in demand once the furlough scheme ends in March, said: "When coronavirus hit, we saw an increase in usage but with support available from the Council we saw a little dip through the summer.

"Things are increasing again. We have a lot of basics but are struggling for more expensive items, like tins of mean and even potatoes. We need gravy and any other Christmas items."

King's Foodbank gives out festive parcels in the week of Christmas but is collecting donations for them now. 

The spokesperson said: "Christmas is always a busy time and every year we have been open we have seen an increase in usage. We have a helping ethos so we ask how a person has found themselves needing us to try to help them out of food poverty.

The Northern Echo: NUTRITIOUS: A typical parcel for one person from the foodbank.

"It's important not to just put sticky tape over people's problems."

King's thanked the community who have been generous throughout the pandemic, including nine-year-old George Hodgson who raised money for the foodbank through sponsored litter picks in a bid to make sure "every family has a turkey this Christmas".

There are numbers of other community groups that are working to tackle food poverty and distribute food packages.

Food for Thought, in Darlington, donates surplus supermarket food to those in need. Before the pandemic, it also ran cooking classes to show people how to do more with less and make healthy meals. 

Kat Gillie receives donations from Food for Thought and says the group are "saints". 

The 35-year-old mum said: "We have a low income but when Covid hit and everywhere was shut... most of the time shops only had expensive brand foods and that's not in our budget. Then we had to isolate with my 70-year-old mum here and things just hit rock bottom.

"Knowing the food is coming helps my anxiety a great deal, there's always fresh fruit and veg and something for the kids. It's the odds that make them smile that mean the most because at the moment it's difficult to treat them, and they suffer most.

"The whole scheme is amazing. Without them, I know there would have been times when I would have went hungry."

The Trussell Trust has welcomed recent steps made by the government to prevent people from falling into destitution – including the announcement of the £170m Covid Winter Grant Scheme for England which is an important boost for local welfare assistance the charity has campaigned for.   

But the charity is concerned that food banks in its network may still see high levels of need over the winter and beyond – particularly as redundancies recently hit a record high, doubling since the previous quarter. 

The Northern Echo: George Hodgson is raising money for King's Church Foodbank through sponsored litter picks George Hodgson is raising money for King's Church Foodbank through sponsored litter picks

It is asking the government to ensure money is kept in the pockets of people who need it most by locking in the £20 rise to Universal Credit, brought in at the start of the pandemic.

It says people currently excluded, such as people receiving payments through the legacy system, should get this money too .

The Trussell Trust is also asking the government to help people hold on to more of their benefits by suspending benefit debt deductions until a fairer approach to repayments can be introduced.