Charities are bracing themselves for an influx of more than 40,000 struggling Kiwi families who can't afford to serve Christmas dinner or put presents under the tree this year.
The Salvation Army expects a third more New Zealand families will need their help this year compared to last, as lower-income households grapple to recover from the recession and adjust to rising living costs.
Major Pam Waugh said high demand last Christmas and the number of people using the year-round services indicated need was rising.
Last year people had to be turned away after 30,000 families had been helped.
"Over the last three years we've seen a steady increase of demand for our services," she said. "For a lot of our families, to get their basics covered like rent, food and their power bills paid, that takes a huge proportion of their budget.
"[Debt] takes the next priority and stuff like children's Christmas presents are way down the budget."
Last Christmas, queues outside the Auckland City Mission snaked for a block as people lined up for food parcels and gifts for their children.
In the fortnight before Christmas Day, 2500 parcels were donated to needy families, said missioner Dianne Roberston.
"Every Christmas in the last five years has been busier ... so given the volumes of people coming to us at the moment, there will be a greater need this Christmas," she said.
Both organisations said the high demand was due to economic recovery not trickling down to lower socio-economic groups, welfare reforms and rising living costs.
However, the demographic of those requiring help was changing. "We're now seeing families coming through who are working but have had their hours reduced, or they may have lost an income and that's putting pressure on them," said Mrs Waugh.
For single mother Julie Finemore of Glenfield, the rising rent, grocery, water and power costs leave little to plan a Christmas for her four children.
Seeking assistance meant she could give her children a hearty meal and presents on Christmas Day.
"I'm a solo mum on the benefit and there are lots of people like me out there in hard times," she said.
She first got Salvation Army help in 2011 and said although Christmas was about spending time with her children, aged 3, 10, 15, and 17, it was special being able to have extra treats.
"I do get a little bit embarrassed asking for help, but ... every kid deserves a decent Christmas, it doesn't matter if you're poor or you're rich."
How to help
• Donate gifts to the Wishing Tree Appeal in K-Mart stores
• Take food to Salvation Army offices for Christmas hampers
• Collect gifts and food from friends, family and co-workers to donate