Figures published by the Trussell Trust in recent weeks point to nearly 5,000 emergency food parcels having been handed out across the borough over the past 12 months of the pandemic.
During the same time period, around 125,000 packages were delivered across the North East by centres that form part of the trust’s network of food banks nationwide.
But, organisers at South Tyneside food banks told The Gazette, the statistics published this week only represent ‘a portion’ of the overall levels of need in the area since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Hospitality and Hope is the only food bank centre in South Tyneside where figures were taken as part of the national charity’s report.
The organisation’s CEO, Brian Thomas, pointed out that it first became affiliated with the Trussell Trust in May 2020, meaning the new numbers do not reflect the full picture covering the past 12 months’ work for the group.
“We only started in May with the Trussell Trust, so that is just a portion of the levels in the area during that time and our total number is higher than that,” he said.
"There were 794 people we supported in April  alone. Compared to the previous 12 months, we’ve seen a 35% rise of people coming through the doors in food crisis.”
Mr Thomas also warned that the levels of need were likely to rise further over the course of 2021, as the borough approaches a ‘pinch point’ when furlough money begins to taper off and the Universal Credit uplift is reviewed by Whitehall ministers.
He said: “We sit as one of the most deprived areas in the country and the Government is predicting a 17% increase in unemployment and are considering removing the £20 Universal Credit top-up. The impact of that is going to be huge in an area like South Tyneside.
"We already have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country. And it looks like things are only going to get worse.”
A lead organiser at another food bank in South Tyneside, Hebburn Helps, said the profile of residents relying on the community group’s support had changed over the past year.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” co-founder, Angie Comerford, said of her experiences working at the coal face of the social crisis triggered by the pandemic.
"The percentage on the year before has gone through the roof. There’s been a lot more kids coming to us – which is not normal. In fact, at one point in January the number of little ones in need of food parcels overtook the number of adults.
"This last couple of weeks hasn’t been as busy as it had been. But you don’t really know how it’s going to be on any given day, to be fair. It can go from quiet to manic very fast.”