MORE than 19,000 poverty-stricken families in the North East turned to food banks in 2013.
A national food bank network fears more than a million desperate Britons could be relying on them by next year.
The Trussell Trust, which operates food banks across the UK, said that more than half a million people have been referred to them since April last year.
More than 19,000 of these were in the North East, where the charity has food banks in Sunderland, Durham, Gateshead and Newcastle.
A total of 12,479 adults and 6,547 children living on the breadline in the region turned to food banks between April and September last year.
In Durham, a Trussell Trust food bank, run by local churches, fed 11,000 people, compared to 5,000 people when it opened in 2011.
The Durham food bank network has 16 outlets, which are expected to rise to 20 by the end of January.
Peter McLellan, chairman of Durham Christian Partnership, said: “We saw a big change with the demise of crisis loans and some of the other benefit changes that started in April.
“The biggest cause of people coming to us is down to some sort of benefit issue – it is more like two thirds.
“People live from benefit cheque to benefit cheque and any sort of delay really puts them into crisis.”
Mr McLellan rejected claims by Government Minister Iain Duncan Smith that the charity was “scare mongering”.
“Most of these Westminster politicians need to get out of their bubble and spend some time talking to real people.”
There are more than 400 Trussell Trust food banks across the UK, and the network is expected to grow by a further 100 food banks in 2014. Charity chairman Chris Mould believes low wages and benefit caps will see even more demand on the charity.
He said: “With earnings rising at less than one per cent and social security support capped at one per cent, while the cost of living is rising three times as fast, the reality for millions of people in the UK will be an even tougher year than the one they’ve just been through.
“Sadly, that means many more people will be referred to food banks in 2014 than in 2013.
“In fact, by this time next year, we could well be talking about how Trussell Trust food banks have helped a million people in just one year alone.”
As the demand grows, kind-hearted Wearsiders have been donating food to help the less well-off enjoy Christmas.
Staff at Fulwell Chiropractic, in Sunderland, handed over hundreds of pounds worth of groceries to the Trussell Trust.
Donations included 281 tins, 23 jars of baby food, 28 boxes of tea and coffee and 35 toiletries.
Dr Peter Ellison, who runs the practice, said: “We were stunned and overwhelmed with their generosity.”
The food will go to poverty-stricken families in Sunderland from a food bank in Elim Church, Durham Road.