Food grants for Wairarapa people have declined - but the demand for food parcels has shot up.
Ministry of Social Development documents provided under the Official Information Act show that in last five years, grants have dropped since the 2010 social welfare reforms.
The reforms mean people who ask for special needs grants more than twice in 12 months must prove they are trying to improve their financial situation.
Over 2012 and 2013, around $346,000 worth of food was granted by Work and Income NZ's Masterton branch.
While grants dropped 27 per cent from 2009, more food parcels are being given to needy families.
Maureen Potts, co-ordinator at Food Bank Masterton, said compared to previous years, demand for food parcels was rising.
"This year it has definitely increased."
Mrs Potts said an average of 150 to 160 parcels were given out a month, sometimes reaching 200.
Demand peaked in the winter months when people had less money for food as they had power bills to pay.
Mrs Potts said there was no one reason for the increase.
"I just think generally that the state of things at the moment is causing people to come to the food bank."
"A lot of times, it is a one-off," she said.
The shelves were quite empty at the moment, so donations were welcome, said Mrs Potts.
Current and former WINZ users said it had become tougher to get the hardship grant.
One Masterton woman who did not wish to be named, said she turned to the food bank after she was denied a food grant.
This was because she had already received two grants in 12 months - one for school uniforms for her children and one for food.
"They just said no, I thought 'What am I going to do? How am I going to feed my kids'?"
Even though she works full-time, she finds it hard.
"Costs are up but wages and benefits don't go up. I'm trying to do without WINZ. When you walk in, you feel really uncomfortable."
Trevor MacKiewizc, Wairarapa Beneficiary Advocacy Service advocate, said WINZ had made it harder to get a special needs grant.
He said a food grant was provided to cover the cost of food until the next pay day.
That meant if you run out of food a day before your pay day, you might only get $20, even though your next pay may all go on bills, he said.
He said the reforms had definitely led to a decline in grants.
A client of Mr MacKiewizc, who did not wish to be named, said she found it harder to prove she was in need.
She had been working but was now on the Domestic Purposes Benefit with two young children at home.
"It is difficult, Trevor helped me, you have got to go to an advocate to do it.
"They talk down to you like you're nothing. They have to realise people have got families, people have got to feed them."
Food prices jumped by 6 per cent since August 2010, with fruit and vegetables up by 16 per cent and bread prices up by 8 per cent.
Latest figures show the consumer price index has increased 0.7 per cent in the year to the June 2013 quarter due to higher electricity prices.
WINZ states food grant applicants must be able to prove they "have a need that is both immediate and essential".
A total of $1.6 million in food grants was issued by the WINZ centre in Masterton from 2009 to 2013. That did not include pensioners' grants or grants made through the national call centre.
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