Donating one item from your shopping trolley can make a big difference to families at Christmas, says Belfast author Anne Doughty
A Belfast author has made a heartfelt Christmas appeal for shoppers to add an extra item to their festive shopping list for one of the province's growing number of food banks.
Anne Doughty (76), who is currently writing her second novel set around the time of the Irish Famine, has taken the lead in fighting hunger by buying a trolley load of groceries from her local supermarket.
Anne - renowned for her much-loved Hamilton series of historical Irish fiction - is horrified that in 2016 thousands of people are still going hungry.
The widow, whose latest work is The Blacksmith's Wife, has given to charity every Christmas for the past 46 years instead of buying festive gifts.
As well as supporting the food banks this year, she has donated to the Quakers to help fill hampers for single mothers.
She says: "We have 14 food banks in Belfast alone. I am writing a second novel about the Irish Famine in 1845 and it just seems wrong that people are going hungry in this day and age.
"If only more people would consider how relatively rich they are. There's no famine in Marks & Spencer or Tesco.
"I've got £100 to donate and I then raided my piggy bank and little jars I collect coins in and now have a total of £140.
"My local Tesco is giving £4 for every £30 spent so I hope to do four shops and get an extra £16 in vouchers to buy more for the food bank.
"When I go into the supermarket, it shocks me at the people pushing trolleys piled high with food which is excessively rich and I can't bear the fact that people are going hungry in our affluent society.
"I would just ask people reading this to please put some extra food in their Christmas trolley and donate it to the food bank. Most supermarkets have a food bank trolley which people can put donations into."
Research carried out earlier this year showed that demand for food banks in Northern Ireland has hit an all time high.
And at Christmas, while most of us are feasting on turkey and all the trimmings, many men, women and children will be relying on food donations to get them through the festive season as they face a stark choice between heating and eating.
The Trussell Trust which runs a UK-wide network of food banks including 37 in Northern Ireland says December is the busiest month of the year.
Last December the food bank network saw a dramatic 45% increase in the number of three day emergency food supplies provided to people in crisis with over 7,412 people receiving donations.
This Christmas, the charity expects to see a 20% rise on last year, due to the opening of three new centres in areas of high child deprivation - two in west Belfast and one in Londonderry.
Last December, 82.5 tons of food was donated by the public and this Christmas, donations are expected to top 90 tons.
The 37 food bank centres across Northern Ireland not only support people with food. They also provide cookery and budgeting courses, debt and welfare advice, work alongside holiday clubs to help deal with child hunger during school holidays, and signposting services to help resolve the underlying cause of the crisis.
Susanne Downey, NI Regional Development Officer with the Trust, said: "December is the busiest month of the year for the Northern Ireland Trussell Trust food bank network and we are very grateful to the public for their ongoing donations, with people generously choosing to help feed their hungry neighbours.
"The Trussell Trust operates on the goodwill and generosity of the public to stop hunger across Northern Ireland and the UK.
"We would like to say thanks to the public for their ongoing support which ensures people using a food bank this Christmas won't have to go hungry.
"Over the winter period multiple pressures hit families and the reality is that people on low incomes across Northern Ireland have to face a stark choice between heating and eating. The generosity of the public means we can help even more people this Christmas."
In the past year the total number of emergency food parcels provided by the Trust to people going hungry in Northern Ireland has increased by 48%.
Some 25,755 were packages given out during the 2015/2016 financial year, 11,155 of which went to children.
Donations will be gratefully received at your nearest food bank centre, or food bank collection points can be found at your nearest participating Tesco, Sainsbury's, ASDA, Ulster Bank branch and local churches.