Key Points:

Foodbanks are appealing for donations as more and more families are being driven to the wall by rising living costs.

Demand for food parcels has doubled since the start of this year to 100 a week at Mercy Missions in Papakura.

At the Hamilton Combined Christian Foodbank, it's been up more than 40 per cent on a year ago in each of the past three months, and at the Salvation Army's 37 foodbanks nationwide it was up 22 per cent in the three months to June.

Some, such as Mercy Missions, have been able to meet people's needs with goods donated by a food wholesaler when they are close to their use-by date.

But others, such as the Hamilton foodbank, have had to top up donations with purchases from supermarkets. Manager Aleisha Linch has been trying all possible sources for help.

"We send out messages to the churches and we put a notice in the local newspaper. That brought in a bit," she said. "Mainly it's easier to get non-perishables, such as tinned food and cereals and rice and sugar and that sort of thing."

The Salvation Army's co-ordinator of community ministries, Major Ian Hutson, said the army received food from food companies and from events such as a recent benefit tour by the rock band Opshop, but always needed more.

A report issued yesterday by the Council of Christian Social Services also called on the Government to help by:

Extending Working for Families-type support to all low-income people, including beneficiaries and single people without children.

Linking benefit levels to food prices instead of general consumer prices.

Developing a strategy to reduce the need for foodbanks.

The report says that although most food parcels still go to families with children, childless households have increased since Working for Families started in 2004 from 27 per cent to 29 per cent of clients at the Hamilton Christian foodbank, from 22 per cent to 40 per cent at the Salvation Army in Manukau, and from 51 per cent to 52 per cent at Presbyterian Support in Dunedin.

Pakeha clients have also increased at the two North Island foodbanks in the survey, from 5 per cent to 17 per cent in Manukau and from 25 per cent to 33 per cent in Hamilton, although at both places most clients are still Maori.

The survey found that housing costs now eat up more than 30 per cent of net incomes for at least three-quarters of the clients at all four foodbanks, and more than 50 per cent of incomes for about half the clients in Manukau and Hamilton.

On top of that, food prices rose by 7 per cent and petrol prices by 34 per cent in the year to June, compared with a 4 per cent rise in overall consumer prices.

Welfare benefits increased by only 3.2 per cent in April, in line with overall consumer prices in the year to last December.

A mother who was at Mercy Missions yesterday said she had been able to feed her two daughters only by regular trips to the foodbank in the past two months, even though her partner works at a supermarket.

"We have no money to provide the petrol and the food together," she said.

"I got sent here from my budget adviser at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Papakura. I had used up the food grant from Work and Income and the budget adviser could see I was still down $60 to $70 a week."

The manager of Presbyterian Support's northern foodbank, Ray Rennie, said he gave a food parcel yesterday to a mother who had had no food in the house for four days.

"Her husband was removed for violence reasons. She's got no money and there are bills unpaid."

But budget adviser Vicki Buchanan at Te Whanau Putahi community centre in Fairfield, Hamilton, said clients were also beginning to swap tips about shopping bargains and cheap recipes, and some had signed up for a course on "healthy cooking on a budget".

"We are trying to encourage people to grow some vegetables and to find the person with the grapefruit tree or the orange tree with the fruit lying on the ground and knock on the door, because it's really important to get fruit for the children somehow."

FOOD PARCELS
Increases in demand:

* Mercy Missions, Papakura: Up 100 per cent since the start of this year.

* Presbyterian Support Northern: Up 60 per cent in May and June on a year before, up 100 per cent in July.

* Hamilton Combined Christian Foodbank: Up 48 per cent in May and June, up 41 per cent in July.

* Salvation Army NZ: Up 22 per cent in three months to June.

* Auckland City Mission: Up 22 per cent in three months to June.