SHOCKING new figures reveal that the number of people forced to rely on food packages in Wigan has more than quadrupled in a year.
Since the Trussell Trust was set up in the borough in March 2013, 2,956 families have requested the help of its food banks.
In its first month, 80 people were given tinned goods, compared with 355 in March 2014, which is a 343 per cent hike.
The Trust’s food banks are based at Atherton Parish Church, every Wednesday and Friday from 1pm until 3pm; Leigh Baptist Church on Thursdays 10am until noon and Kingsleigh Methodist church, Monday and Tuesday between 10am an noon.
And recent figures from The Brick, based in Arcade Street, Wigan, reveal that it has supplied 4,545 boxes full of tinned goods, rice, cereals, pasta and sauces, to people struggling to afford to eat in 2013, compared with 941 in 2012.
Similarly, Compassion in Action, based in Leigh, boasts the largest food distribution warehouse in the borough, has seen a rise of 47 per cent in hampers delivered to families in social crisis.
This disturbing picture is reflected across the country, as almost a million adults and children received emergency supplies from food banks in the past year - a shocking rise of 163 per cent on the previous 12 months.
The Trussell Trust said rising numbers were turning to food banks because their incomes are squeezed, despite signs of an economic recovery.
Lynda Batterbee, North West development officer for the Trussell Trust, said: “We had only just started out in March last year. But nevertheless, we have seen a huge rise in people coming to us.
“The cost of food and fuel has gone up.
“There have also been a lot of problems with the welfare system, as more people have been sanctioned, had a delay in receiving benefits and even those who are working are finding their wages are not enough.
“So it is important to have these food banks as without them people would go hungry.”
The Trussell Trust said its food banks were now offering welfare advice and providing essentials such as washing powder, nappies and hygiene products to families at breaking point.
Coun Pam Gilligan, who runs Compassion in Action, has been working with agencies and businesses to secure a constant supply of food for poor families across the borough.
She said: “All hampers are delivered free of charge to the families and we are the only food bank in the borough to address the health and wellbeing of families by including fresh produce.
“It is very important to have a charity like this to help people in the current climate.”
The borough also has two other registered food banks - Ashton Churches Together and The Stonehouse Project, in Billinge.
A letter signed by 36 Anglican bishops and more than 600 church leaders from all major dominations has called for urgent Government action to tackle food poverty.
But the Department for Work and Pensions refused to admit there was a problem.
A spokesman said: “There is no robust evidence that welfare reforms or benefit administration are linked to increased use of food banks.
“There are fewer people struggling with food bills compared with a few years ago and benefits processing times are improving.”