AN unseen and increasing scale of deprivation in Peebles was revealed at the annual meeting of the Peeblesshire Foodbank last week.

Chairman Calum Macdougall said the rescue charity handled 135 referrals, the majority from social workers or Citizens Advice Bureaux, during the 12 months to March this year - involving 214 people, including 43 children.

“It is deeply disturbing that the need for foodbanks across the country is increasing rather than diminishing,” said Mr Macdougall, Minister at Peebles Old Parish Church.

“It remains the hope of all of us that the day will come, sooner rather than later, when Peeblesshire Foodbank will no longer be required.”

That day does not look any nearer.

Honorary treasurer Francis Mordaunt said the number of people desperate for emergency food supplies was increasing.

He said: “There’s a real need for the food bank here but it’s hidden - we don’t have big pockets of poverty showing up on indexes.

"But since March we’ve had 74 referrals feeding 123 people compared to 61 referrals feeding 106 people during the same period last year and we’re getting six referrals a week at the moment.”

Most of the hungry people are aged between 25 and 64 and the majority are single.

The most common problem is disruption in benefit payments, bad debt, sickness or simply low income.

“A big proportion are on benefits or zero-hours contracts who suddenly find they haven’t got work,” said Mr Mordaunt.

“Sometimes people live one pay cheque away from disaster. A lot of people live month to month. They don’t have any savings, though the social security system assumes that they do.

"We had one lady with her son who had not eaten for two days.”

Individuals or families are restricted to a maximum of three food boxes over a six-month period.

It’s intended as a temporary help to tide them over a crisis and Mr Mordaunt said it seems to be effective as most are never seen again.

“A lot of people who use the food bank say they will pay us back when they get back on their feet – and many have.

"One honest man brought his box of food back because he said his benefit cheque had just come in.”

More than 20 volunteers help to sort the food and pack the boxes, which are aimed at providing a minimum of three days' nutritionally balanced, tinned and dried food donated by the local community

The food bank is part of the Trussell Trust, a poverty charity founded on Christian principles.

Much of the food is donated through Tesco supermarket in Peebles. Donations can also be made direct to the Foodbank warehouse at Rowan Court, Cavalry Park, which is open for two hours twice a week - every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am.

A typical food parcel includes cereal, soup, pasta, rice, pasta sauce, beans, tinned meat, fish and vegetables, tea and coffee, tinned fruit, biscuits, longlife milk and fruit juice. There are also household items such as washing up liquid and toiletries.

Mr Mordaunt said there is also a need for pet food as people will go hungry themselves rather than let their cat or dog miss out on a meal.

He added: “A pet can be the only company for people who live on their own and some of them would rather feed their pet than themselves.”

The Foodbank needs money for rent and to cover expenses such as insurance and telephone.

Last year it cost nearly £3,400 to run the operation, which made a loss of nearly £700. A separate fund-raising committee has been formed to organise events and fundraising to cover annual costs in the future.

“We need money more than we need certain items of food like cereal. We can’t deal with any fresh food and we sometimes have to throw away out-of-date items that people mistakenly give us,” said Mr Mordaunt.

Tesco is the biggest single source of income.

The company makes a cash donation of 20 per cent of the average weighed value of food handed in at the store, which added up to more than £1,500 last year.

Another £1,200 came in through individual donations and fund-raising.

There’s also a need for more volunteers both to help out with sorting and packing donated food and to serve on the board of trustees.

Mr Mordaunt concluded:, “At the moment we particularly need people with a car willing to hold the Foodbank mobile phone for a time to take calls from Peebles, Innerleithen and Walkerburn.

"At times volunteering can be demanding but it’s also rewarding.”