Whangarei's food bank gave out nearly 2000 emergency parcels in the first three months of this year - up 18 per cent on the year before.
Whangarei Salvation Army Lieutenant Peter Koia said the elderly and large families with young children made up the majority of those asking for help.
Mr Koia said one woman who approached the group was caring for her preschool granddaughter and living in a boarding house populated by men, including alcoholics and mental health patients. The Salvation Army intervened and relocated them, but Mr Koia said that kind of case was not uncommon.
"One of the things I've also been noticing lately is that a lot of the people coming through the food bank are new," Mr Koia said. "They're first-time clients who are just stuck. It could be something like rent going up. For some of us $10 a month is not an issue, for others it's huge."
The Whangarei "Sallies" gave out 1974 food parcels in the first three months of 2016.
"This year has been very unusual," Mr Koia said. "Coming out of Christmas being busy is the norm, but this year it's just kept going."
Corps officer Jenny Ratana-Koia said every client coming through the food bank doors was given the opportunity to access other services, including budgeting, social work, counselling and addiction treatment.
"There's layers and layers and layers of stuff people are dealing with," Ms Ratana-Koia said. "Sometimes someone might come in and you know they are pulling the wool over your eyes about something. Next time you can say, 'You were in here before, are you okay?' and you might get to know a little more of their lives. The food bank just gets people through the door."
Community and Maori ministries team leader Trevor Mclean said the Whangarei branch was "a central hub" for the rest of Northland. Each week he took a barbecue out on a trailer to give people in disadvantaged communities a free meal.
"You get those people who might be too proud to come in and ask. Everyone needs a hand up every now and then."
The Salvation Army's nationwide campaign, the Red Shield Appeal, was launched on Thursday. The Salvation Army had assisted more than 120,000 New Zealanders including 68,000 children over the last year. A spokesperson for the national campaign cited the irony of the New Zealand economy growing by 12 per cent over the last five years, while an estimated 300,000 children lived in poverty.
The Red Shield Appeal runs until May 8. Donations can be made at redshield.org.nz, by phoning 0800 53 00 00, at Countdown or to collectors.