DEMAND for emergency food parcels in Caithness have jumped by 50 per cent during December.
Caithness Food Bank has been working flat out to service referrals from people who are struggling and need assistance to help feed themselves and their families.
Chairman Grant Ramsay said the main reason people are needing help is delays in the universal credit scheme.
“Both food banks in Thurso and Wick have seen an increase the amount of referrals from Citizens Advice Bureau this month.
“It is almost all down to universal credit with people saying they are experiencing delays with their payments and are struggling to pay bills.
“We are getting more folk in need in the run-up to the Christmas period and are expecting more after this time as more people tend to spend their money over Christmas and struggle afterwards.
“I would estimate that the number of referrals in Thurso and Wick have doubled over the festive period.”
He and his fellow volunteers have at the same time received huge support over the festive season which has allowed them to meet demand.
A collection organised at Tesco supermarkets in Thurso and Wick resulted in over 270 crates of foods being donated to the food bank.
Mr Ramsay said: “We received 147 crates of food from the Thurso store and 127 crates from its Wick store which was fantastic.
“Supermarket customers have been very generous in supporting the food bank.”
The charity is also running its successful reverse advent calendar initiative which encourages householders to place a donated item of food in a bag each day. The bags are returned to its depots at Wick Youth Club and Princes Street in Thurso.
“The bags have been so successful that we are looking to get more next year,” said Mr Ramsay.
It was revealed earlier this year that the number of people requiring food bank services in the far north is at an all-time high. Between September 2016 and September 2017, 14 tonnes of food handed out to 1341 people in Caithness and Sutherland
The number of people using the service in Thurso and Wick increased by 280 this year with food parcels helping 995 adults and 346 children in the far north between August last year and this year.
The number of users in Wick almost doubled from 343 last year to 565 this year, comprising 421 adults and 144 children.
In Thurso, the number of users rose from 349 to 516, consisting of 376 adults and 140 children.
The number of people getting help in rural Caithness dropped from 320 to 180 – 148 adults and 34 children.
Donations were given to 25 people in Sutherland with the remaining recipients undisclosed.
A total of 13.5 tonnes of food was received while 14 tonnes was handed out.
Caithness Food Bank also received a welcome boost last week when they received £3225 from workers at Dounreay after donations were collected during the site’s festive lunches.
Mr Ramsay said: “The volunteers of the Caithness Foodbank are overwhelmed by the generosity of the Dounreay staff and this substantial donation will go a long way in providing the support over the coming year for those in need within our community.”
Dounreay Managing Director Phil Craig said: “I continue to be bowled over by the generosity of our team. A number of worthwhile charities were nominated and the workforce chose Caithness Foodbank. It feels appropriate that our lunches will now help others get the food they need in our community this Christmas.”