A food service volunteer said people were being forced to choose between feeding their pets or themselves as she helped launch a winter appeal for donations.
FareShare Sussex and Surrey, a food waste charity, is launching a drive ahead of Christmas, expecting it to be the “busiest winter yet” with record levels of demand for food.
Littlehampton Community Fridge (LCF) in West Sussex is one of more than 150 local organisations that receives food redistributed by FareShare Sussex and Surrey to help combat hunger and food waste.
Hayley Rees began volunteering at the LCF community hub four years ago and has seen its operations grow from a fridge in a library to 30 fridges in a church.
The 44-year-old said: “We have got people choosing between animal food or human food, wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t have to choose?
“We have people that come every day that we are open, five days a week. They will sometimes queue out there for three hours. They have come to us like as a social group as well.
“We are like a central point for them to find out other places to go for the food bank or furniture or clothes.”
The volunteer supervisor said customers ranged in age from 16 to 98, with some living in supported accommodation, some being homeless, and others affluent but helping ensure food did not go to landfill.
Ms Rees said: “We count them in, we used to have 60 (people) on a busy day, now we are lucky if 100 (people) is a quiet day.
“We can get rid of pretty much everything FareShare give us, it goes.”
Across the counties, FareShare Sussex and Surrey said it needed an increase of more than 40% in surplus food to meet demand on its current waiting list.
The charity receives 70 tonnes of food a month and is aiming to raise £30,000 in seven days to provide more than 120,000 meals for people in its Big Give Christmas Challenge appeal.
Cash donations made through the Big Give online portal would be doubled between November 28 and December 5, while donors could also give food or volunteer through a Tesco food drive from November 30 to December 2.
Ms Rees said she had been on “both ends” of receiving support, and giving a helping hand to others, as she volunteered 50 to 60 hours at the charity instead of undertaking paid work due to mental health difficulties.
The former care support worker said working at a children’s hospice had “wrecked” her mental health and that she had previously received food bank vouchers as a single mother.
She also received food support from LCF as well as volunteering at the charity.
On volunteering at LCF, the mother-of-two added: “It’s my good place, it’s so good for my mental health, it’s a really positive environment. It’s a real happy community hub.”
Chief executive of FareShare Sussex and Surrey Dan Slatter was urging people to dig deep this winter, as the charity aimed to achieve at least 15 tonnes of food at its Tesco superstore drive in three days.
Mr Slatter said: “This winter, we are urging communities to come together to help us provide food for those who need it most across Sussex and Surrey.
“Sadly, we’re expecting demand to reach record levels at a time when we have seen a reduction in surplus food levels amid the high cost of living.
“Loneliness at Christmas can be especially painful. We’re working with charities and community groups who provide communal meals for those who could otherwise be alone.”