By Michael McHugh, PA.
Hundreds of carers in Northern Ireland are receiving emergency food parcels during the pandemic.
Derry/Londonderry-based Kinship Care has been providing essential aid to families living in severe poverty.
Since lockdown, it has supplied 261 people looking after 311 children.
Jacqueline Williamson, chief executive of the organisation, said: "One lady with stage three cancer, who looks after two grandchildren, has been provided with four food parcels.
"She can't leave her home. It is a priority for us to support this carer and other carers with significant health issues."
Government guidance is that grandparents should not have any contact with their grandchildren.
She said that was not an option for the families the organisation supported as many are raising their grandchildren.
Some are vulnerable and struggling to make ends meet, and may not be aware of which benefits they are entitled to.
Ms Williamson said: "They have received no guidance or support from the authorities."
Kinship Care closed its five shops at the beginning of March, with a loss of £2,600 in revenue per week, but has since been "swamped" by families looking for help.
Ms Williamson added: "Many of our older carers have pre-existing health conditions and are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.
"We realised they were going to be struggling with the lockdown and targeted those aged over 70 raising grandchildren and younger carers aged 18-25 bringing up younger siblings."
The charity said it had received no direct support from social services or the health trusts, who have a statutory duty to provide for these children.
It has been contacted by some social workers asking it to send food parcels or other essentials to families looking after them.
Faced with a collapse in income at a time when there is a huge demand for services, Kinship Care made an application to the Halifax Foundation for NI for £9,900 to provide services for carers in the Derry/Londonderry and Strabane areas, including food parcels and emergency activity packs for children.
Volunteer giving out supplies
Ms Williamson said: "We spent the money in eight days.
"The charity sector is running out of money and organisations such as the Halifax Foundation for NI have jumped in and provided support to meet the immediate needs of very vulnerable families.
"The National Lottery has also helped, and we have received small amounts of money from other donors."
Some elderly carers are looking after four or five grandchildren without a penny of support because they are not aware of any entitlement to financial aid or the parents of the children continue to claim child benefit, which prevents grandparents from making a claim for support, Ms Williamson said.
She added: "This is at a time when these families urgently need money to feed the children under their care.
"We have at least another three weeks of lockdown and our older grandparents will still be advised to isolate. They are going to be frightened to come out of their homes.
"In some cases, given the health conditions of some of our carers this time could prove fatal.
"The only outcome for the youngsters is going into the care system."