THOUSANDS of children across the county will be relying on food banks and community larders this Christmas.

Among those preparing for a spike in demand is volunteer-run Cherwell Community Larder, which supplies food parcels and prepared meals for people in the north of the county.

Founder Emily Connally said her team experienced a ‘huge influx’ during October half term, as families asked for help, supplying more than 1,000 ready meals in a single week.

Read also: Pensioner robbed by fake charity worker in Waitrose car park

She’s seen a similar surge in requests as schools close for the holidays.

The larder also saw a rise in users in October, when the furlough scheme was due to end.

Ms Connally said: “When the furloughs turned into redundancies, we saw a bit of a bump.”

Although the programme was extended until the end of April, many employers had already axed their staff.

Up to 450 people rely on Cherwell Community Larder every week for food parcels, delivered across Kidlington, Banbury, Bicester and Hook Norton, and 700 people have signed up to the larder.

Read also: Councillor reveals how she was diagnosed with autism as an adult

Ms Connally said many are working families, struggling to make ends meet.

She said: “We had a mum who was a hairdresser and dad a builder who went from jointly earning £5,000 a month, to virtually no income overnight.”

High costs of living are a big problem, with rent in Oxfordshire 22 per cent higher than the South East, and 56 per cent higher than the average for the rest of the country, in relation to average earnings.

“Rent is the one thing you can’t control,” Ms Connally said.

“And although you can reduce use of electricity, you have a base-line cost.

“Food banks exist because that’s the only area where people can save money. They have to pay the other bills, or they’re homeless and freezing,” she added.

Another problem is ‘food deserts’ - areas where there is no big supermarket within walking distance, forcing them to shop in smaller and usually more expensive stores.

“In rural areas and caravan parks, the only option may be a small corner shop which does not accept free school meal vouchers,” Ms Connally pointed out.

“In Bicester, quite a few neighbourhoods are food deserts because the large shops are centred in one area and if you don’t have a car, you can’t shop there,” she added.

The number of people in Oxfordshire using food banks, community larders and fridges has now trebled, largely because of the pandemic.

More than half of the 100 community food schemes around the county, which were surveyed for a Good Food Oxford report, have seen ‘significant increase’ in families with children using their services.

Food shortages also penalise poor families, as cheaper, own-label products sell out fastest, leaving only the most expensive brands.

Ms Connally said: “It will be some time before the community larders will be able to stand down.”