PEOPLE in the Borders are having to choose between heating their homes and buying food, according to the chairman of a Borders food bank.

John Tucker, who has been part of Galashiels Foodbank for five years, says both fuel and food poverty are major concerns during the winter months.

The foodbank, based in St Peter’s Church, provides emergency food packages for people struggling to feed themselves, containing a mixture of fresh and dried foods.

Mr Tucker says that the number of people using their service has increased significantly during the coronavirus lockdown, with people now facing difficult decisions going into the winter months.

“Some people have to make the impossible choice whether to heat their homes or to get food,” he said.

“We get some people who say to us that they’ll switch on their fridge while they use the fresh milk [from the emergency food parcel], then when it’s done they’ll switch it off and use the powdered milk.

“There’s a lot of deprivation that isn’t immediately obvious.”

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Mr Tucker estimates that the food bank has fed 3,000 people since March, when previously they would have been feeding around half of that figure during a 12-month period.

It costs Galashiels Foodbank around £18,000 a year to buy the fresh food that goes into their emergency packages and Mr Tucker says that means they have to be “very efficient”.

“With the fresh food we have to buy that,” said Mr Tucker, who encourages people to give what they can, either by donating via their JustGiving page or by leaving tinned goods at designated drop-off points at ASDA (Galashiels), M&S (Galashiels), Coop (Melrose) or the Coop in Earlston.

“Currently we are spending more than we are getting in. We are having a look at that. We have got the data to show that we are giving more than we did before COVID.

“I think we will get there. We have got to be optimistic.”

Last week, the food bank gave out 65 bags of dried foods and 61 bags of fresh food.

Mr Tucker says the number of people using the food bank has “eased up a bit lately”, but pressures on food banks remain high.

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The Trussell Trust, a charity that supports food banks, recently published statistics that demonstrate the increased demand for food banks.

The only Trussell Trust food bank in the area is Peeblesshire Foodbank, who gave out a total of 542 food parcels between April and September, up from 338 last year during that same period.

Of that 2020 figure, 367 were distributed to adults, with 175 going to children.

In total, over 1.2 million food parcels were distributed by Trussell Trust food banks across the UK between April and September this year, a 47% increase on 2019’s distribution.

Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, says that food bank volunteers “have been working under extremely difficult circumstances”.

“This pandemic has shown the unexpected can hit us suddenly, with devastating consequences for people’s lives,” said Ms Revie. “But it’s also shown we can make huge changes to the way we live and look after each other.”