More than 17,500 people needed support from Tauranga Community Foodbank in the past year - a 21 per cent rise on the year before.
And Covid-19 and the city's housing crisis are said to be behind the rise as the foodbank helps people living in their cars every day.
The figures have been released as the Bay of Plenty Times, in partnership with Gilmours Wholesale Food and Beverage Tauriko, today launches its annual Christmas appeal to raise food and money for the foodbank.
Heading into its 10th year, the appeal has raised more than $1 million in cash and food donations in that time.
A record $163,180 was raised during last year's six-week appeal - $108,000 in cash and 27,585 food items.
But this year the foodbank has seen heightened demand so has increased the amount of food it provides - and that means needing more money.
In the year ending October 31, the Tauranga Community Foodbank helped 3000 more people than it did the year before - and more than half of the 17,566 people were children.
In the past year, the foodbank delivered 6391 parcels - roughly 123 a week.
About $120,000 has been spent on staple food items such as meat, eggs, milk, bread and canned food, which was about 30 per cent more than last year's $92,000.
Changes have also been made to the parcels with a parcel previously designed to last three days, to get someone through to payday. The foodbank now provided a minimum of four days' worth of food, with more parcels now lasting a week.
Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the soaring demand was due to Covid-19-related job losses on top of the housing crisis, which was causing unprecedented hardship even before the pandemic struck.
"Now we're seeing situations where, and no amount of budgeting, there isn't enough money to meet outgoings," Goodwin said.
"We know their situation is that dire, that we're actually increasing what we're giving.
"There's been a real shift ... a lot of people who have never used any kind of charitable service, and never needed to [are coming to us]."
Staff and volunteers have been busier, more food needs to be bought, and those on the frontline are weathering the emotional toll.
"It's sad, and it's no fault of anyone that people have ended up in these situations. It's really hard to see that all day."
Goodwin said the foodbank was seeing people who either needed more time to get out of financially difficult situations or who were stuck in situations they were simply unable to change.
Some families who may have lost incomes were unable to meet everyday costs, she said.
"We were already really under the pump due to housing."
Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty houses are estimated to cost more than 10 times the median household income, above the national average of nine, according to Priority One's latest Economic Monitor report.
The median value for Tauranga properties was $715,000, and $780,000 in the Western Bay, according to OneRoof.
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures showed the mean weekly rent in August this year was $508 in Tauranga and $433 in the Western Bay.
The average income is also at a three-year low across the region, currently at $42,500 per year before tax, down from $42,952 in 2018.
The number of people on the Housing Register also soared 72 per cent in two years from 309 in June 2018 to 532 in June 2020.
On top of that, Ministry of Social Development data showed 9.3 per cent of work-ready people in the region were on the jobseeker benefit.
It was an increase from 14,400 in September last year to 20,400 in September this year.
The combined number of people in the Tauranga City and Western Bay of Plenty District Council on the jobseeker work-ready benefit was 3045 in September, up from 2026 the same time last year.
Goodwin said the skyrocketing numbers of people in need included some they never thought they'd see and the situation didn't look like improving anytime soon.
"My feeling is it's going to get worse. There's no short-term fix."
The foodbank was usually contacted as a last resort, Goodwin explained.
"There's always that hope that things are going to get better or there is going to be a job.
"By the time we get to speak to them, they've used every resource available."
Being able to receive food after every possible option has been exhausted brings relief.
The foodbank also points people towards other services for help.
"Everyone feels vulnerable ... even if you've so far survived Covid financially, everyone's very vulnerable because we don't know what's going to happen.
"It's outside our control."
Goodwin said everything made a difference when it came to food or cash donations. Each item donated would be valued at $2.
"It all goes towards the people, our neighbours, the people we work with, people you just wouldn't realise are needing that support.
"If people feel ashamed to use the foodbank, think of us as a community organisation here to help."
Christmas was a great time to focus on and think of others but it was just one day on the calendar, she said. There was a long school holiday ahead, and food-in-school programmes which had helped alleviate pressure would not be available.
Food and money raised during the campaign will help get people through the extreme hardships that could become more evident between now and March.
When they were thanked by the customers, Goodwin said she always pointed out to them that everyone living here was lucky to live in the community they did, and clients found that "heartwarming".
"We might be the ones here talking to people and packaging up the food ... but it's only because of a supportive community.
"The foodbank's middle name is community - literally - and the Tauranga Community Foodbank is what it is because of donations."
Bay of Plenty Times editor Scott Inglis said the Covid-19 pandemic meant this year's Tauranga foodbank appeal was even more important.
"There are always people in need and this crisis has had a profound impact on people who might otherwise not have needed support. It's been such a challenging year," he said.
"Imagine not being able to put simple food on the table to feed your family. That must be devastating," Inglis said.
He encouraged people to donate what they could.
"Every bit helps make a real difference to those most in need."