For many of us, Christmas is the season to eat, drink and be merry - but for too many, the season is plagued by fears over how to put food on the table at all.

Most people never expect to have to visit a food bank, but it doesn't take much at all to fall on hard times.

And once people find themselves in these difficult circumstances, it can feel almost impossible to find their feet again.

The ECHO spoke to one Merseyside dad who says he can't afford to feed his kids - despite working 12 hours a day.

This is just one tiny corner of the huge operation at South Sefton food bank.

The dad, who did not wish to be named, said: "I was made redundant after 14 years and I've had to take a job on a lot less money.

"It doesn't help that it happened just as one of my children turned 18, so no more tax credits for him.

"I work 10am-10pm and I'm still struggling to keep our heads above water.

"The stress, the worry - it has made me ill, but even if I had time to go to the doctor, I don't want to because if I get signed off work it's game over."

"You have an image of people in your head... homeless and with no family..."

One woman, a full-time nurse, said having to rely on food banks has 'completely crushed' her.

The nurse, who also did not wish to be identified, said: "I struggled in silence for so long, I was too ashamed to go [to the food bank] at first.

"You have an image of people in your head... homeless, no family etc. I'm a full-time nurse, it shouldn't be like this.

"But I literally had nothing, no choice. I even found myself asking if I could swap things like pasta and rice for things like pot noodles, because it's cheaper to boil the kettle than it is to use the gas for the hob.

"It's demoralising."

South Sefton Foodbank, based in Waterloo Town Hall, is expecting to give out more than 12 tonnes of food this month alone.

It is a huge operation, with around 120 volunteers needed to collect, sort and give out food and other supplies - such as sanitary products, nappies and pet food.

Food bank manger Debbie Shelley said: "We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the public this year at our Tesco Collection at the end of November.

"We are a really busy food bank sadly, and collecting enough food is always a challenge.

"This Christmas we will be giving out 500 'Festive Bags' running up to Christmas. We have also started a coat bank, where our clients are able to access a warm coat if needed.

"As well as the food bags, we also have a range of services to help assist, and signpost our clients including debt advice, courses, and self help groups, to ensure we get them all the help they need."

Debbie says the food bank is always short of:

Food banks are keen to get donations sooner rather than later, so they can make sure goods are distributed to those in need in time for December 25.

Food bank charity The Trussell Trust says colder weather puts increase pressure on people already in crisis during the winter, with families unable to cover the basic costs of living such as heating bills, food and other essentials.

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The Trust says more people than ever will need a food bank's help this year.

The charity recently published figures for April to September 2019, showing that there has already been a 23% increase in the number of food parcels provided compared to the same period in 2018.