Demand for food parcels and grants have soared as the impacts of Covid-19 continue to bite in Tauranga and Western Bay of Plenty communities, Bay social agencies say.
Foodbanks and other support groups and the Ministry of Social Development are reporting a huge surge in demand for food staples compared with pre-Covid levels.
They are bracing for a second wave of demand in coming weeks as the wage subsidy scheme comes to an end and further impacts of Covid-19 hit communities.
Tauranga Community Foodbank manager Nicki Goodwin said the foodbank had been a lot busier than the same time last year.
It handed out 749 food parcels in May, compared with 379 in May 2019 setting a monthly record not seen in her seven years at the foodbank, she said.
Last month, 400 parcels were handed out compared with 370 in May 2019, but in the past 10 days demand had crept up again with 170 parcels delivered in just nine days, she said
Goodwin said in the 12 months to June 30, there had been 6919 food parcels given out feeding just under 20,000 people - that's 35 per cent more than two years ago.
"I expect demand is only going to soar again once the wage subsidy scheme ends.
"Despite all the government support, we're seeing a lot more people who have lost jobs or coping on reduced incomes and never come to us before."
Goodwin said people should see asking for a food parcel as a hand up to get them over a difficult financial period.
"There should be no feelings of shame or embarrassment about needing to ask for help.
This is what we are here for and our service is entirely confidential and we will make the process as stress-free as possible.
"I do fear there are lots more people trying to cope on their own and the true picture of need is far greater than we are seeing right now.
"While our warehouse was pretty well stocked with most things, thanks to our wonderful supporters, there were some items the foodbank cannot afford to buy in bulk."
This included tinned meat, tinned fish and cakes of soap in huge demand, she said.
Goodwin said there were donation boxes at the local libraries if anyone wished to donate non-perishable items or visit the charity's Facebook page to make a cash donation.
Tommy Wilson, the executive director of Te Tuinga Trust Support Services, said the demand for financial help, particularly food, had definitely soared.
"I can honestly say that none of the clients we're helping care for and support in Tauranga Moana are going hungry. But there is definitely a new wave of working poor who are really struggling to cope and having to seek this type of help for the first time.
"When the Government turns off the wage subsidy tap on August 15 we are really going to see the flood gates open and I think we'll need a Noah's Ark full of food to stop everyone drowning from hunger," he said.
Simone Cuers, service manager at The People's Project Tauranga, said she and her team supported any initiatives which help reduced poverty, especially "food poverty".
She said the charity was working with 50 homeless people housed in motels and providing wraparound support services but looking for long-term tenancies.
Covid-19 has meant there were more people experiencing "food poverty" and that situation was only going to worsen in coming months, she said.
Jono Bell, the Salvation Army's Territorial Director of Community Ministries, said they had been an unprecedented increase in demand nationwide.
Between March 25 and May 25, 36,972 food parcels were given out, and almost one third or 11,242 people helped were first-time clients.
Bell urged people to support the Salvation Army's winter appeal which runs until July 31.
"This winter we're rolling up our sleeves again to support the expected surge in the number of vulnerable New Zealanders who will face tough choices over their essentials.
"Many of those work in our hardest-hit industries, such as hospitality and seasonal work.
"Others are migrant workers, with English as a second language, or work in unstable zero-hour contracts. Most have never had to ask for help before," he said,
"We also have a new cohort of New Zealanders experiencing financial difficulties for the first time in their lives. The Government put great support systems in place during lockdown but it's long-term support that is going to be needed," he said.
The latest Ministry of Social Development figures also show a spike in demand for food grants, with 12,093 issued in the Bay of Plenty region last month.
MSD paid out 62,068 food grants in the Bay of Plenty region in the four months to June 30, which included 23,432 in April and 15,020 in May.
On average MSD paid out 9000 to 10,000 food grants each month pre-Covid.
The Red Cross is also helping manage a $37.6 million government fund launched on July 1 to help stranded foreign nationals with food and other forms of assistance.