DESPERATE families are having to turn to Renfrewshire Foodbank for help to pay their heating bills this winter.

The charity’s bases in Johnstone, Renfrew and Paisley normally supply food parcels to around 10,000 people each year.

However, hundreds of local residents have also turned to the organisation in the last few months for financial assistance with their heating and lighting bills as temperatures plummet.

Renfrewshire Foodbank launched a Fuelbank initiative in July this year, offering people pre-paid vouchers for their gas and electricity meters.

Since then, more than 400 people have asked for the vouchers, which are funded by the UK Government and can be exchanged for pre-paid credit at local shops and supermarkets.

Elizabeth Alexander, Renfrewshire Foodbank manager, said many of those seeking help are having to choose between heating and eating, with some unable to do either.

She told The Gazette: “We now have fuelbanks at our three foodbank locations. People are spending more time at home because of Covid restrictions, so their bills have gone up.

“As well as struggling to afford food, they are also now struggling to pay for gas and electricity.

“We had one man who said he wouldn’t have to sit in the dark any more, thanks to the fuel vouchers.”

Elizabeth was speaking after the Trussell Trust charity, which supports 1,300 foodbanks across the UK, including three in Renfrewshire, issued a report which highlighted the scale of the cash crisis faced by many people.

It shows that the six-month period from April to September was the busiest ever for British foodbanks. 

A total of 4,326 food parcels were issued in Renfrewshire alone during that period.

Elizabeth said her team is seeing a wider range of people asking for help, including those who have lost their jobs or whose income has dropped through being furloughed.

She added: “These are people who would not normally come to a foodbank but they are coming because of Covid.

“You are talking about people who have had their own businesses and have had a comfortable life.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, paid tribute to people like Elizabeth who are on the frontline in the fight against poverty.

She said: “Volunteers in foodbanks have been working hard under extremely difficult circumstances to make sure support is there for people who are struggling to afford essentials but it’s not right that any of us are forced to turn to a charity for food.”