RECORD numbers of struggling families in Scotland will be relying on charity handouts to eat this Christmas.
Food banks are reporting soaring demand, with The Trussell Trust expecting to provide food parcels to more than 2000 people in Scotland over the two-week festive period.
FareShare, an organisation which distributes unwanted food to food banks and charities such as homeless shelters, expects to provide enough food for 120,000 meals in Scotland - nearly double the figure last December.
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Meanwhile, around 200 people turned up in just four hours at a winter destitution "surgery" held by Glasgow-based charity Positive Action in Housing last week, seeking crisis payments, clothing, food and bus passes to help them over the festive period.
Charities have blamed the dramatic rise in demand on welfare reforms and the squeeze on household budgets in recent years as living costs rise while wages remain static.
The Trussell Trust, which operates 43 food banks in Scotland, provided food to 34,000 people from April to the end of November this year, more than five times the total - 6400 - over the same period in 2012.
Ewan Gurr from the charity said the number of people helped reached 37,617 at the end of last week, but he expected it to further increase by the New Year.
He said: "As incomes are pretty tight, I wouldn't be surprised if we were sitting at 40,000 by January 1.
"People might say that it is just because there are more food banks opening.
"That is one argument, but the food banks that have been in existence for two, three and more years are saying we have also experienced a 100% increase."
Gurr said the main reasons for people relying on food parcels were to do with benefits issues, such as delays to payments and sanctions, when benefits are withdrawn for failing to attend an interview, for example.
The busiest bank run by The Trussell Trust is in Dundee, which has provided food to 4161 people since April this year - 3110 adults and 1051 children.
But Gurr pointed out that there are food banks in affluent areas. The one in Banchory in Aberdeenshire has given food to 246 people since opening five months ago.
"Of the 10 least-deprived local authorities in Scotland, we currently have a presence in nine. That highlights just how far-reaching food poverty is," he added.
Charity FareShare does not give food parcels to individuals, but has four depots in Scotland - in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. It distributes unwanted food from supermarkets, for example, to charities as food banks, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and children's breakfast clubs.
It said 42% of member charities in Scotland reported more people turning to them for food and 71% expected demand to increase in the future.
A spokeswoman for FareShare, whose Glasgow depot was not running last year, said: "This December we anticipate providing our member charities in Scotland with enough food for more than 120,000 meals." That figure is almost double last year's.
DIRECTOR of Positive Action in Housing, Robina Qureshi, said staff had been "deluged" at last week's winter destitution surgery.
The organisation, which promotes affordable housing for minority groups and helps destitute asylum seekers, prepared for 130 people to attend, but more than 200 turned up.
"It has only been a year since we did the last annual surgery and the extent of the desperation is much worse," she said. "The question I am left with is why are we having to do this? Why is there a Government that allows this to go on?
"We should not be having to hand out crisis grants of £15 per single person a week and they turn up for it as they know they will not get it anywhere else."
Qureshi said among those attending the surgery was a Glaswegian in his 40s who felt "ashamed" to ask for bread and tins of soup until his benefits were paid.
She added: "He should not be the one feeling ashamed. Those who should hang their heads are the ones in Government who orchestrated this."
Glasgow City Mission said it had noticed a dramatic increase in people using its food bank in the past six months.
Out of 381 people who have used the bank since September, 221 were new users, with 89 of them having a problem with benefits.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "It is unacceptable that anyone in a country as prosperous as Scotland should have to rely on food banks … the Westminster Government's welfare cuts programme unfairly impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of our society."
She said action by the Scottish Government included giving an additional £9.2 million to the Scottish Welfare Fund, which awards community care and crisis grants.
But she added: "Welfare is a reserved matter which means we are limited to arguing against unfair welfare reforms, and easing the impact on people."