Food banks are handing out more parcels than ever before as Britons battle food poverty in ever-increasing numbers - and Christmas will be no exception.
Between April and September 2016, Trussell Trust food banks across the UK distributed 519,342 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis compared to 506,369 during the same period last year.
More than 188,500 of these parcels were to children, the charity said.
There are a range of reasons why people may need help from a food bank. The Trussell Trust, which runs 428 services around the country, says that benefit delays and changes account for the highest proportion of their referrals at 44%.
Low income was the second largest cause of a crisis, accounting for nearly one in four of all referrals to their food banks, driven by problems such as low pay, insecure work or rising costs.
The winter months, and particularly Christmas, can be a particularly difficult time for those struggling to pay for food for themselves and their families.
The Trussell Trust explains: “Christmas can be a difficult time for individuals and families who are already managing on extremely tight budgets.
“The increased winter fuel bills, and the pressure of choosing between heating and eating, will sadly push many families into food crisis.”
If you want to use the festive period to help out a food bank, here are some things you can do...
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Voluntary donations help food banks keep functioning so they can provide those in need with food parcels.
There are a number of ways you can give financially to support the work of food banks.
If you want to do something specifically for Christmas time, you can make a one-off donation. The Trussell Trust provides information here on how to make a one-off contribution to their food banks or you can check with your local food bank.
To support food banks throughout the year, you can set up regular giving through your bank.
It's also possible to donate regularly using payroll giving, also known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE). Anyone whose pay is taxed through PAYE can donate through payroll giving. Speak to your HR department who will be able to help you set this up.
You can give food in a number of ways:
1. Directly to your local foodbank – find your nearest one here.
2. At collection points in supermarkets across the country.
3. By hosting a collection at your school, church or business for your local foodbank.
If you're unsure what's best to donate, have a look at what is included in a typical food parcel here for ideas.
The Trussell Trust also suggests checking with your local foodbank to see if there are any supplies in particular which they are in need of.
Whether you have a few hours spare or a couple of days a week free, you can practically help a food bank by volunteering your time.
There are a number of different things that volunteers can help with:
1. Help in a warehouse withweighing, sorting and storing donated food before it’s made into parcels.
2. Volunteer in a food bank centre, where you can help with meeting clients and giving out food parcels. Having a chat with clients to discuss their situation and signpost to further support is also an important part of the service.
3. Help organise supermarket collections and encourage people to donate and collect items.
Rethink your presents
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Are you the sort of person who replies "oh, I don't know" when asked by friends and family what you want for Christmas?
Why not use the occasion to help out a food bank?
Instead of ending up with another box of bath bombs that you'll never use, ask your loved ones to make a donation to a food bank in lieu of giving you a gift.
They could donate to a specific local bank or to the Trussell Trust here, where they can arrange for you to be sent a card acknowledging the gift.
Give other items
Remember that food banks also accept essential non-food items such as toiletries and hygiene products, helping people in crisis.
The Trussell Trust also runs charity shops and recycling centres, which help to fund its work.
Here are some of the items they will welcome:
1. Good quality clothes, shoes, bras, bags, hats and jewellery 2. Bric-a-brac 3. Books, DVDs and CDs (although they are unable to accept video tapes) 4. Toys 5. Working electrical goods (all TVs must be digital compatible) 6. Good quality furniture 7. Unwanted furniture for upcycling.
Poor quality clothing can also be donated for recycling, though they ask that it be marked as 'salvage'.
The Huffington Post UK is running a fortnight-long focus around helping others this Christmas. Giving Back will shine a light on the organisations and individuals making a difference in their community, tackling issues such as loneliness, homelessness, food waste and financial struggle. We’d also love to hear your stories. To blog for Giving Back, email email@example.com. To keep up to date with our features and find tips on how you can make a difference this Christmas, follow the hashtag #GivingBack.