EAST Lothian Foodbank has recorded its busiest ever month since it opened nearly a decade ago.

In December, close to 1,000 people were helped by the county charity in a Christmas of little cheer for many.

A total of 961 people were fed by the foodbank last month, with children making up 41 per cent of that figure.

The number of parcels it distributed has shot up by 40 per cent compared to the same time last year.

While the efforts of everyone associated with the foodbank have been widely praised, politicians described the figures as “a mark of shame” and said they highlighted “the stark reality of poverty” in East Lothian.

Elaine Morrison, manager of the Tranent-based foodbank, believed that the true number of people requiring their help was even higher.

She said: “I think some people will not want to approach foodbanks and other community food providers out there.

“There are other local larders throughout the county as well. Some people are going to other providers, they are not going to the foodbank.

“The [true] figure is most definitely higher than what we are seeing here.”

And she added: “A lot of new pantries cropped up during the early stages of the pandemic that are still going and are still very busy.”

The charity was set up in 2012 and delivers three-day emergency food parcels to people. Last month, a total of 392 food parcels were given to those in need.

The foodbank delivered 316 jingle bags, which include tinned turkey or chicken and tinned vegetables, including carrots, sweetcorn and peas, to offer people a traditional festive dinner.

Other items included in the jingle bags were custard, mince pies, biscuits and Christmas savoury snacks.

The foodbank manager described the situation as “a double-edged sword”.

She said: “We are overwhelmed by the support of the community but overwhelmed with the demand and dealing with a lot of crisis situations.

“It has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster at times.”

Kenny MacAskill, East Lothian’s MP, praised the efforts of everyone involved with the group.

He said: “The contribution by so many at the foodbank is exemplary.

“But it’s a mark of shame on us all that it’s needed and it’s so busy.

“The austerity being imposed is having severe consequences for many and I fear it’ll worsen as winter bites and costs mount.

“The foodbank will be needed even more but it’s political change that’s the real solution.”

Paul McLennan, MSP for East Lothian, outlined the situation in the county. He said: “Poverty in East Lothian is growing.

“These figures reveal the stark reality of poverty within our county.

“It is not surprising there has been a 40 per cent rise in uptake of foodbank parcels this Christmas, as the UK Government sanctioned rise in energy bills, National Insurance and cost of living, and the Universal Credit uplift have very clearly had a huge impact on of all us, but especially the most vulnerable, most deprived in our communities.

“With more costs set to rise – like rail fares in March – over the course of this year, I fear we will see more and more people in East Lothian pushed into poverty.

“The groundbreaking doubling of the Scottish Child Payment here in Scotland introduced by the Scottish Government will help ease some of this pressure, but the UK Government must step up and do all that they can to prevent this.

“As I’ve made clear in the past, tackling poverty in East Lothian is an utmost priority of mine for the duration of this Parliament.

“Later this month, I will be chairing a poverty roundtable with organisations including East Lothian Foodbank looking at food insecurity and other areas of poverty across the constituency.

“Thank you to everyone who has donated to East Lothian Foodbank and to the staff and volunteers, who work so hard to make sure everyone has food to eat in our communities.”

Low income continues to be the main reason for referrals, accounting for 48 per cent of referrals.

The foodbank manager encouraged people to continue supporting the group, whether that be through the donation of foods, such as long-life milk and juice, tinned potatoes or coffee, or even handing in suitable bags for goods to delivered in.

People can be referred to the foodbank, on Tranent’s Civic Square, by a number of agencies, including East Lothian Council, the NHS and Citizens Advice Bureau.

A council spokesperson said: “The work of East Lothian Foodbank highlights the importance of ongoing action to tackle poverty.

“The council has been supporting the foodbank and many other food initiatives across East Lothian for several years and in particular during the pandemic.

“We have been working with these and other voluntary sector agencies across East Lothian, including East Lothian Food Network, to try to mitigate the impact of the rise in poverty.

“The Poverty Plan that was recently adopted by the council was drawn up by a multi-agency group, seeking to take account of work undertaken since the East Lothian Poverty Commission’s report was published in 2017, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The plan sets out a range of actions and commitments to tackle poverty and break the cycle of poverty in East Lothian.

“The council has recently increased the budget of the Scottish Welfare Fund by £350,000 to provide additional support to individuals, families and individuals who are in financial difficulty.

“We have established a new fuel poverty fund to assist people in fuel poverty and debt pay their fuel bills over the winter.”