Food banks handed out a record 1.2 million emergency parcels during the coronavirus crisis – with almost half going to children.
The figures – covering the six months to September – were revealed by the Trussell Trust, which said its network of 1,300 centres saw a 47% increase in need.
More than 470,000 of the supplies went to children.
The total does not include the number of people helped by community organisations, independent food banks and local authorities.
The top three reasons for someone being referred to a food bank in the Trussell Trust’s network during April to September were low income, benefit delays and sickness or ill health.
The Trust said welcome steps have been taken by the Government during the pandemic, but it called for longer-term action.
Emma Revie, chief executive of the Trussell Trust, said: “Throughout 2020, communities across the country have stepped in to provide vital support to people left without enough money.
“Volunteers in food banks have been working hard under extremely difficult circumstances to make sure support is there for people struggling to afford essentials, but it’s not right that any of us are forced to a charity for food, at any time of year.
“In the last few weeks, we’ve seen incredible compassion and concern for people facing hunger following Marcus Rashford’s brilliant campaigning, and it’s hugely welcome to see the Government build on steps already taken by providing significant new funding for local councils in England.
“This vital local support must work in co-ordination with a national welfare system that is strong enough to act as a lifeline to anyone struggling to afford the essentials.
“This pandemic has shown the unexpected can hit us suddenly, with devastating consequences for people’s lives, but it’s also shown we can make huge changes to the way we live and look after each other.”
The charity voiced concern that food banks in its network may see high levels of need over the winter and beyond, particularly as redundancies increase.