Seventeen-thousand people were helped by the Tauranga Community Foodbank in the year to June.

With an estimated population in Tauranga of 128,200 in June, this means 13 per cent of the city's population were desperate enough to ask a charity for help feeding themselves and their families.

That's an incredible amount. But what is also incredible is the way people offer to help - especially those who aren't much better off themselves.

Tomorrow, Bay of Plenty Times staff will be running the first of three can drives in Greerton, aiming to get to as many houses as we can between Pooles Rd and Argyll Rd.

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This will be followed by a drive on December 5 in Bellevue and another the following week on December 13 in Arataki.

A colleague asked me last week why we didn't choose more affluent suburbs to ask for donations.

In the past, our can drives in the "richer" suburbs of town resulted in fewer donations than those considered less well off.

One can only guess at why this is. A volunteer one year was told by a Matua resident that she regularly contributed to charity and had already done her bit.

Another volunteer was told foodbank clients should just work harder and stop asking for handouts.

But there is one incident I will never forget.

The first can drive I attended was in Arataki. I knocked on a door and a young woman answered, toddler in hand.

When I told her I was asking for cans, she walked straight to her sparse pantry and brought me two tins - almost the entire contents of her cupboard.

She had needed help from the foodbank in the past and told me even though she didn't have much, she wanted to pay it forward.

This young woman taught me a lesson I will never forget - it's not how much you give, but the spirit in which you give it.