Claire Bowerman has watched demand for Preston’s Salvation Army food bank increase 20-fold in less than six years.
Where the charity would hand out 20 to 30 bags of food a month in 2011, it now fills 450.
But Claire insists she has never seen the shelves as empty as they are right now.
And the centre co-ordinator admits: “We’re only days from running out.”
Unprecedented demand, coupled with a puzzling reduction in food donations, have left the city’s biggest emergency bank on the brink.
Unless an avalanche of non-perishable goods arrives soon, the Harrington Street centre could face the unthinkable - having to turn needy families away empty-handed.
Claire said: “We never, turn folk away. But these past few weeks it’s been getting critical.
“In the past, when we’ve had a bit of a supply crisis, our supplies have got down to three to four weeks of food left. Right now we have less than one week.”
The problems started to bite around the start of April - the same time wholesale changes to UK benefits were introduced.
Not all the food bank’s clients are claiming benefits - some are working folk struggling to feed their families.
But to Claire the new system of Government handouts is having a profound impact in Preston.
“I’ve got to admit the main cause of people coming in for food parcels right now seems to be the change in benefits,” she said.
“Quite a few big families have been badly hit. They are struggling to make ends meet on less money. Some are hundreds of pounds down on what they were getting.
“Others have told us they haven’t been getting anything for up to eight weeks while their benefits are changed over.
“We’ve been giving out two bags of food instead of one to get people through. And we’ve had to relax our rules and let people visit more than once a month.
“It’s very sad seeing how people are struggling and it seems to be getting worse.”
The record level of demand has coincided with a fall in the number of donations to the food bank. The Salvation Army team say they are baffled why supplies have been drying up.
“We usually get a massive influx around Easter time to see us through to summer, but that never came this year,” said Claire. “We’ve no idea why donations have dropped off so much. It’s bizarre and it’s been so significant that we’ve had to go out and buy things to make sure we can still provide the service.
“We have a bin for people to donate at the Town Hall. But this morning it was practically empty.
“I’ve been here for five-and-a-half years. I’ve never seen supplies as low as this and we’re really worried.”