'Tis the season of good will: 

Meet the Newcastle United fans coming together to support the city's West End food bank.

The air is cold and crisp on Strawberry Place. The atmosphere has reached its fever pitch as the night draws in. Fans' cheeks are blazing red among the sea of black and white shirts, while the bitter northern wind makes their scarves dance. Yet thousands of fans still soldier on to St James' Park. It is Newcastle United Football Club's 125th anniversary match, but there's something else on the fan's minds - the Newcastle United Fans Donation Station.

During the football season, many supporters provide food and cash in their droves to the Gallowgate collection point, which helps the Newcastle West End food bank provide food to 1,000 families, couples and individuals in the city every week.

Connor Evans, 21, from Ashington, Northumberland is a seasoned food donator. Before every match, he gives bags of pasta, tins of soup and other needed items. "I feel it's important," he said.

"My parents always raised me to be kind and polite and although I don't have much myself they always made sure I had everything I needed," Connor added.

Others complete challenges, in order to give items to the Newcastle donation station. A team of people behind Al' Wi' Smiling Faces podcast walked more than 10 miles from South Shields to the donation station - to provide two shopping trolley's full of food to the cause.

Trolley dashers, the Al' Wi' Smiling Faces podcast team, who walked ten miles from South Shields to donate two trolleys of food to the donation station. Photo by Sophie Dishman.

Podcast host Kris Wallace, 30, from South Shields, said: "We are all NUFC season ticket holders, so we see the effort that is put in by the food bank on every single match day, Christmas is coming up and the weather is dropping so we thought that giving a little back to those in need over the festive period was the right thing to do."

The donation station, which supports the food bank in Newcastle's West End, has been open since February 2017. It stands proud opposite NINE bar, on the south side of Newcastle United's home stadium, at every home game. Come rain or shine, the tarpaulin is thrust up, buckets are shaken up and down and donations are welcomed with beaming grins. 

The West End food bank was the brainchild of the Newcastle Venerable Bede church. After raising money to buy the franchise from UK charity, the Trussell Trust, Micheal Nixon stepped in to run what is now the country's largest food bank.

"The food bank started because the church recognised there was a need.

"I'm a pastor in the church and I felt 
like I had to respond to that need 
in some way."

"I came in to help them run it."

"It takes over your life."

Michael Nixon, Newcastle West End food bank manager.
 Reverend Michael Nixon, Project Manager of the Newcastle West End Foodbank.

Michael was asked to lead the organisation's mission to offer emergency food assistance to those in need, in March 2013. The 69-year-old from Newcastle manages the food bank's day-to-day running, but is also a minister within the city's North Tyne and Redesdale churches.

"The hope for the future would mean there's no need for a food bank," he said.

The centre, which costs £100,000 a year to run, goes through an average of four to five tonnes of food weekly, which is enough to give 1,000 people in the west end of Newcastle a food parcel and a hot meal once a week. More than 400 of those who are fed every week are under 16. The figure doubles in the run up to Christmas.

Because of cash and food donations from businesses, individuals and Newcastle United fans, the centre, which starred in the award-winning film I, Daniel Blake, is able to help more than 50,000 vulnerable people in the west end of Newcastle annually. This year, it will have helped between 52,000 and 53,000 people put food on their plates - which is enough to fill every St James' Park's seat.

The food bank distributes its resources to people from ten areas in the city.

The organisation has been massively strained since the roll out of the universal credit benefit, which is available to individuals who are out of work or on a low income.

Manager, Micheal Nixon, said: "There's been a big increase in the last few months as universal credit has begun to roll out. We've seen an increase of about 40 per cent. It's a massive increase. People are experiencing serious problems - they just can't cope with the demands the system makes of them.

"We've now go more people to feed, so we need more resources, more money, we need more food and we haven't got any more staff."

Volunteer, Bill Corcoran, dressed up and ready to collect donations from supporters at the Newcastle United vs Everton match on Wednesday, December 13. Photo by Sophie Dishman.

Donations are collected by a small Toon army of around 100 volunteers. Many work full time alongside their volunteer work.

Newcastle United supports volunteers Monju Meah, 31, and Bill Corcoran, 53, both give their time to the Newcastle West End food bank. Mr Meah is a sustainability professional at Capgemini and volunteers to do his part to "get them [clients] back on track," while Mr Corcoran, a financial planner by day, feels it's his duty to help "our people."

The 53-year-old said: "We don't just support the 11 men on the pitch, we support each other in the crowd and the region. Naturally, we should help our most vulnerable and give them hope and dignity. That is our task and we will do everything we can to discharge that duty."

Solicitor, Colin Whittle became involved because of his work as a board member at the Newcastle United Supporters Trust (NUST). The 55-year-old has lived in Newcastle for the last 20 years and saw the growing need for food banks within the community.

"We as a supporter group help bring in the fans on match day. I think it’s important that we work together to support those in our community who are less well off. NUST are strong believers that Newcastle United should be a 'community club' and we as supporters have an important role to play within our community, working together for the common good." he said.

As well as fans, Newcastle United support the West End food bank as a club, by providing a tonne of food every fortnight.

"We are delighted to have forged a close partnership with the West End food bank.  

"They do tremendous and vital work for those less fortunate across our city and we are committed to helping in whatever way we can.  

"As a major institution within the city and the North East region, we have a social and moral responsibility to lend our support. 

"By getting our players involved in the work of the food bank, we can help raise the profile of the charity and, hopefully, encourage donations and support."

NUFC spokesperson.

After the donation station closes, the money is cashed in and the food is sent to the warehouse in Newburn, to be sorted. It is then brought to the food bank for distribution either in a food parcel or as part of a hot meal, cooked by volunteers at the centre.

Newcastle-born Carole Lowes, 58, and Judith Goodship, 61, are both regular volunteers within the food bank kitchen, while Stephanie Malloy, 30, from South Shields, volunteered with the organisation for one day.

Newcastle West End food bank is part of The Trussell Trust's network of 428 food banks, working to tackle food poverty and hunger across the UK. Data provided by the charity, showed between April and September this year, in the North East, 586,907 three day emergency food supplies were provided to people in crisis.

The organisation, which works in partnership with the Venerable Bede church in Benwell, hands out food parcels, worth up to £35, to people from ten different wards in the city.

Tyne and Wear topped the statistics for the region, with adults and children receiving 10,701 parcels in just five months.

These emergency supplies come in the form of food parcels. People are referred to the food bank by the local authority and receive a food voucher. This is exchanged for the food parcel, containing cereal, soup, rice, pasta and tins of fruit, alongside tea or coffee and other items. The parcel contains enough for nine meals.

Examples of food parcels for a single person, couple and family. Photo by Sophie Dishman.

Food parcels are given to people at the Newcastle West End venue for a number of reasons. According to manager, Michael Nixon, clients qualify when they are "faced with a choice - food or paying for some other item like electricity." According to Trussell Trust figures - low income, benefit delays and benefit changes were the top three reasons for referral to a food bank nationally.

Stephen Helliewell, 39, from Sheffield, moved to the city more than a decade ago and now uses the food bank regularly with his partner.

"[Without the food bank] I think I'd just be starving. If it hadn't saved my life, I'd be a lot more miserable, I'd be a lot thinner," he said.

The anniversary collection saw a tonne of food being given by generous Geordies, alongside £1,819 in cash, but the giving doesn't stop there. After one collection is complete and thousands have been fed, the food bank volunteers pound the pavements in Newcastle once again, to collect fans' food and cash donations. The team spirit envelops the small patch on Strawberry Place once more as the whole cycle starts again.

To donate food and cash visit the Newcastle West End food bank website.