UK foodbanks are preparing for increased demand this Christmas as their use across the country is poised to reach record levels this year, according to a charity.
The Trussell Trust has received almost £750,000 in extra funding from the Big Lottery Fund to cope with the strain, but it is concerned that its service will still be under pressure from growing numbers of people on low incomes who will face deciding between eating and heating.
The money will contribute towards services provided by its More Than Food programme, including debt advice, money management, welfare and housing advice, courses in cooking on a budget and other training, as well as emergency food.
Between April and September this year, Trussell foodbanks gave out 506,369 emergency three-day food supplies, compared to 492,641 in the same period last year. December 2014 in particular saw an average increase of more than 50% in referrals to foodbanks compared with other months.
David McAuley, the trust's CEO, said: "Every year we meet families who are worried about having anything to eat on Christmas Day, who have been living and sleeping in one room to keep heating costs to the absolute minimum. Foodbank use is likely to rise significantly over the winter months and we're anticipating that it could peak at the highest level yet this Christmas.
"We are incredibly grateful to the Big Lottery Fund for their generous support in enabling foodbanks to help families and individuals at the point of crisis to get back on to their feet more quickly. The funding couldn't come at a better time."
Single mother Louise (not her real name) received Christmas presents for her children as well as food from her London foodbank last year.
She said: "Christmas makes it so much worse when you have no money. My kids love Christmas and I do too, but this year I can't wait for it to be over. It's so hard seeing all the adverts and knowing I can't afford to celebrate.
"I was stunned when the foodbank gave me presents, it was so special, I didn't expect it. It will make Christmas a little bit easier, I do thank them."