A number of established soup kitchen operators in Ireland are planning to significantly expand their services and open up new food banks in the New Year in response to an increase in poverty-stricken households and homelessness.

Some voluntary organizations have said the unprecedented demand for free meals and food parcels over the past year has stretched their resources to the limit.

The Irish Soup Kitchens Centres, which runs 365-days-a-year operations in Drogheda, Co. Louth, and Navan, Co. Meath, said it's planning to open up four more outlets in Dublin in 2017.

The charity's two centers already dish out up to 3,000 meals in total per week, along with sending out more than 500 food parcels on a weekly basis.

Mark O'Neill, spokesman for the service, said, "The situation out there is desperate for an awful lot of people at the moment, and we've identified a big need for more soup kitchens in Dublin. We did a sandwich run in Dublin recently and the number of people we fed who were lying out in shelters and on the streets was unreal.

“The homeless numbers are far worse than the official figures the government tells us – and unfortunately that problem is not going to just disappear overnight."

It's a similarly grim picture at St. Clare’s Hospitality Food Kitchen in Carlow town, which began handing out free dinners three days a week, along with regular food parcels to the needy after it was set up by a local parish priest 18 months ago.

Susan McWey, treasurer of the charity, said the service was recently expanded to a four-day a week operation, and will be increased to a five-day service early in the coming weeks due to the ever-increasing demand.

"The people that need us are hungry every day, not just three days a week, so that's why the service has to be expanded. It's very sad that so many people need us, and it affects all walks of life,” McWey said.

Brother Kevin Crowley of the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin said the number of meals they now hand out on a daily basis has doubled since 2009.

And he said a visible increase in child poverty in more recent times has resulted in an increase in financially-crippled mothers turning to service for baby food and diapers.

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