A SERVICE set up to help desperate people on the breadline handed over food parcels to 40 families in just a single day during its busiest month ever.
In January, Hartlepool Foodbank, based in Church Street, helped 448 people, including 145 children, as demand continues to rise.
Around half a tonne of food is going out of the door every week, and bosses are considering opening more often to cope with the requests for handouts.
The news comes as the Government faces mounting criticism by church leaders for the punishing impact its welfare reforms are having on people on benefits.
Tonight, Hartlepool Foodbank bosses will discuss expanding its work into areas like debt support as it holds its AGM.
Tomorrow, the new Bishop of Durham the Right Reverend Paul Butler is due to visit the Hartlepool facility.
Hartlepool Foodbank manager Al Wales said: “We have recently served 40 families in one foodbank session, and this is the highest amount of vouchers processed in one session to date.
“If sessions continue at this pace we will need to look at our opening hours.”
Last month, the foodbank issued 228 vouchers to 202 households.
And Al said the vouchers are increasingly to feed larger households including several children, ageing relatives and adults still living at home with parents.
She added: “It does reflect a general increase in the amount of food being donated per week and the level of individual need we are encountering.
“The increase is due to a whole host of reasons such as a 30 per cent rise in food costs over the past couple of years.
“Among these are the Government’s welfare reforms. I would agree with many of the comments, in particular the way the reforms are hitting the most needy and vulnerable and the severity of the cuts.
“What I would say to the Government given the chance is we all know there needs to be a change in our society and with our benefit system, but the way it’s being handled is causing unnecessary suffering and stress to people in already vulnerable situations.
“Please re-think the way that is being carried out and consult more with those of us on the front-line of food poverty.”
The Government has also been criticised for not publishing a Defra report carried out last year, which shows demand for food aid is consistently rising and people use foodbanks only as a last resort.
Al added: “We see people who have put off coming in but they have nowhere else to turn, the cupboards are empty.”
The Mail backed the Foodbank scheme by launching our We Can Do It appeal to encourage readers to make donations.
And despite overwhelming support from all corners of the community, including supermarkets, schools, churches and businesses, faces a constant battle to keep stocks up.
Al says the main help the foodbank needs now is funding for a van to help transport stock, and a warehouse manager to work one or two days a week.
She said: “Ideally though we shouldn’t need a foodbank, it is a success story thanks to all the support.”
People deemed to be in need of handouts are referred to the Foodbank by health professionals, social workers or other agency staff.