Derry food banks face even busier January after helping hundreds at Christmas
Hundreds of families across Londonderry were forced to turn to aid agencies to help them put food on the table over Christmas.
Both the St Vincent de Paul food bank and the Foyle food bank run by the Trussell Trust expect January to be even busier as people struggle to make ends meet.
Joann Barr from the city's St Vincent de Paul branch said its volunteers were delivering food parcels, toys and other assistance to around 100 homes a day before Christmas.
She told the Belfast Telegraph: "December is traditionally a very busy time for us and this year has been very demanding with the sheer volume of people who really needed help - not just with food but with fuel.
"This year the number of people coming to us has definitely increased and the things they need help with has also gone up. People don't like asking for help, but they have no other choice.
"This year our volunteers were delivering parcels to around 100 families a day, but we are actually expecting that level of need in January as well, they just won't need help with toys."
Joann said people from all walks of life had sought their help, including people who are working but not earning enough to cover their basic bills.
She added: "In fact people who are working minimum hours with minimum wage are worse off than people who are on benefits, because they don't get help with housing or anything else, so they have no choice but to come to agencies like ours."
A similar story of increased demand for help came from Denis McGowan, co-chair of Foyle food bank. It is bracing itself for the influx of people coming through its doors in January.
Mr McGowan said: "We depend on the generosity and kindness of the people of Derry and this year we have had an incredible response. Before Christmas we distributed food for around 600 people and had to open every day, so it was a challenge for our volunteers.
"We have an agreement with Tesco through Trussell Trust and in three days before Christmas we collected 2.6 tonnes of food, which in total took us to around four tonnes of food."
Joann Barr explained that volunteers are sorting through the food to get it ready for distribution in January. She added: "Our system works through referrals from other agencies across Derry such as Dove House, Bogside and Brandywell Initiative and Nelson Drive and Caw Community, so we see people from all over.
"We understand how difficult it is for someone to come to us and we make it as easy for them as possible, always mindful of respecting people's dignity.
"We have a cafe where we sit people down and give them a cup of tea while one of our volunteers gets a food parcel. Some people tell you a bit about their circumstances, while others don't want to talk."
Joann said people can find themselves needing help for many reasons, including family break-ups, drug or alcohol dependency or unemployment.
She added: "The Universal Credit scheme begins in the Foyle area in January, which will see some people facing five weeks without any money, so we are expecting a busy time of it."