WHILE children look forward to the summer holidays, they can present a big challenge for families on low incomes.

Poorer families can rely on free school meals to help get them through term time, but providing lunch for children for six weeks, as well as paying for extra child care, can be tough.

That’s why summer is usually the busiest time for food banks across the country.

Sam Gilchrist, project co-ordinator at the West Northumberland Foodbank, said that more families than ever were coming through the door.

In the first six months of the year, the food bank provided help for 260 households, including 354 children spread across 171 families.

The figures represent a rise of 50 per cent in demand since last year, while 46 per cent of requests were people coming to the food bank for the first time.

Seventy one new families came for help from the Hexham area alone.

She said: “March was the busiest month we’ve ever seen. We had 400 requests for help.

“Summer is a hard time because families rely on free school meals. It’s lovely to be able to help families in that position, but it’s so sad to think that for for so many families it’s a happy time of year, but for others it’s the longest six weeks of the year.

“Kids are coming in really hungry. We’re just getting busier and busier.”

Sam also praised Hexham Holiday Club, which provided free actitivies for children in the first week of term.

However, she added that the food bank was in need of further donations.

She added: “We need cash and food donations. That would be fantastic.

“We launched our holiday hunger appeal last month. We’re asking for a bit more of everything.

“We also need washing powder too – kids get changed a few times a day in the summer holidays, rather than just wearing school uniform.”

The appeal comes as the Trussel Trust released new figures this week that revealed a 20 per cent increase in emergency food parcels for children in the UK last summer, when compared to the same period in 2017.

The charity, which supports Britain’s network of food banks, has urged the public to donate to their local foodbank as the holidays begin.

The Trussell Trust’s chief executive Emma Revie explained said more needed to be done to make sure nobody needed food banks in the first place.

“Food banks will do all they can to help families over the summer,” Emma said.

“Many are running holiday clubs to support parents who find that their income simply won’t stretch to meet the extra pressure of missing free school meals or paying for additional childcare during the holidays.

“But no charity can replace the dignity of having enough money for the basics.

“Food banks and other emergency food provision cannot, and must not, be a long term solution to poverty.

“Ultimately, we should all be protected from needing a food bank’s help, no matter the time of the year.”

The trust has also called on the Government to end the five-week wait for a first Universal Credit payment.

The wait often drives people to use food banks.

Emma continued: “The Government needs to ensure benefit payments reflect the true cost of living and work is secure, paying the real Living Wage.

“Every family should have enough money coming in for a decent standard of living. No child should face going hungry in the UK.”