THE number of poverty-stricken Scots being forced to turn to foodbanks has reached record levels this Christmas.

More than 7,000 families and individuals had to seek emergency food parcels last week, according to the Trussell Trust, which runs the UK’s biggest network of foodbanks.

New figures obtained by the Sunday Herald show December has become the busiest month of the year for foodbanks – with demand peaking in the week before Christmas Day.

The Trussell Trust said people had been driven to rely on charity due to financial poverty, increased winter fuel bills and the absence of free school meals during the holidays. Many families have been plunged into “financial famine” over the festive period, the charity said.

One foodbank in Glasgow said it had received referrals for nearly a dozen clients in need of help on Christmas Eve.

Last year just over 14,000 people were helped by the foodbanks throughout the entire month of December – an increase of 53% on the previous year's figure of 9,263.

The total included 5,818 people who were helped in the week running up to Christmas Day - a rise of 51% on the figure of 3,842 in 2013. This year's figures dwarfted those for both 2014 and 2013.

Ewan Gurr, Scotland Network Manager of the Trussell Trust, said: “Christmas is an extremely hard time of year for many men, women and children living in poverty across Scotland.

"December is historically the busiest month of the year for Trussell Trust foodbanks in Scotland, but the figures also pinpoint the third week of December as the busiest week of the year, as Christmas is approaching."

He added: "When our December 2015 figures reach us, they will reveal that we have provided food to over 7,000 individuals and families this week.”

The biggest reason for referrals to food banks in December last year was low income, accounting for just over a quarter – 27% - of cases. Benefit delays were a factor in 24% of cases, while 15% were due to a benefit change.

But Gurr said: “The message we are clearly hearing in our foodbanks is not so much that people are struggling with a low income but with no income.

“This is not about misplaced spending priorities but families struggling on tight budgets where increased winter fuel bills and the absence of free school meals can mean having to make a decision between a warm home and a warm meal.

“Many individuals and families are simply experiencing a financial famine.”

Research published by the Child Poverty Action Group last week also raised concerns around the financial strain on low income families during the school holidays.

Parents highlighted issues such as the extra costs of feeding children when no free school lunches are available and having to reduce working hours due to lack of affordable childcare.

One parent said: “It’s worse at Christmas when it’s cold and I have to put more money in my gas meter to heat my house.

“When the kids are in school I don’t use my heating and I save it for them coming home to a warm house and getting up with heat in the mornings.”

One foodbank in Glasgow opened its doors on Christmas Day to provide meals for families and individuals struggling to put food on the table. A total of 29 adults and 30 children – together with 20 volunteers - attended the event at the Trussell Trust’s Glasgow North-West foodbank, based in Blawarthill Parish Church in Scotstoun.

Manager Kyle McCormick, who ran the Christmas Day meal with his wife Gill McCormick, said those who attended included homeless families living in temporary accommodation and families who have been left without income after experiencing problems with their immigration status.

He said: "Last year we had some families referred to by the social work homeless children and families service – and some of the same families were referred again this year.

“Their position has not changed in the last 12 months, they are still homeless and living in temporary accommodation.

“It has been a lot busier this December than it was last year and we have also had a lot more volunteer support this year."

He added: “We are not a foodbank on Christmas day – it is the foodbank that has organised the meal, but the clients for the day are our guests, they are not clients.

“The whole idea of Christmas is to forget about all your problems and just have the fellowship and enjoy the day without having to worry about anything.”

McCormick said the foodbank had helped around 140 people a month from January until November – but so far the total for the first two weeks in December this year had reached 220.

He said some of this was due to a project to provide emergency food parcels to prisoners being released from HMP Low Moss over the festive period.

But he added: “Already this December has been far busier than December last year.

“On Christmas Eve, we actually had clients come in - 11 clients had been referred on Christmas Eve.”

McCormick said the numbers of referrals usually dropped following Christmas Day because agencies which would normally refer clients were closed and many people wrongly assumed the foodbank would also be shut.

But he said he had advised clients who turned up the week before Christmas that they would be able to come throughout the festive period for food parcels.

“Their situation is not going to change in those two week – in fact it will probably be worse," he added.