Thieves have been described as "horrendous, callous and cruel" after breaking into a food bank and stealing Christmas presents meant for underprivileged children. Train sets, dolls and puzzles donated by members of the public as part of a festive appeal were all stolen during the burglary on 8 December.

Thieves broke into West End Food Bank in Benwell Lane, Newcastle, by smashing through the building's wall before ransacking the centre for toys and even nappies. The gifts were due to be given to about 300 children of primary school age whose hard-up families rely on the food bank for help.

Michael Nixon, project manager for the food bank, told IBTimesUK: "It's devastating. The thieves don't appear to have any conscience. They've stolen presents from other people's children, not from us, and they've caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to our building at the same time.

"Some of the people we help are really struggling. We had one young mother come to us the other week with her three-year-old child. She was trying to live on just £32.16 per fortnight after getting behind on her council tax. These are the kind of people they've stolen from."

Matthew King, the food bank's assistant manager, added: "It's quite possible that they would have been the only presents these children would have this Christmas."

The food bank, affiliated with the Trussell Trust, has been forced to close as a result of the break-in, leaving many relying on its day-to-day service to go without food packages. This is the second time it has been the victim of burglars, after its warehouse was broken into in September and items donated by local businesses and individuals taken.

The centre says it tries to provide a small gift for each child whose parents need to use the food bank in the run up to Christmas every year. But it said: "Sadly, this year we might not be able to provide this for all who need it."

The councillor for Benwell, Hazel Stephenson, told her local newspaper: "Who could do such a thing as this? I mean I'm absolutely disgusted and appalled. I think it's horrendous that someone should take the trouble to get into a place that's only trying to do good and take from people who have nothing. Especially things that have been donated from others. It's wicked. It's beyond belief that people could be so callous and cruel to do such things."

The food bank is hoping donations from the public will allow them to replace some of the presents stolen. Good Samaritans have already offered to pay for the repair of the building and a security company has installed a burglar alarm free of charge.

A spokesman for Northumbria Police said: "At around 9am on Tuesday we received a report of a burglary at a premises on Benwell Lane in Newcastle. Officers attended and found the offenders had forced entry into the building and a number of items had been stolen. Enquiries are ongoing."