Food banks are preparing for a surge in demand for food parcels as increasing numbers of vulnerable Northlanders seek help during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown.
Nearly two weeks into the level 4 lockdown, food charities have warned they may struggle to cope with the expected spike in demand, saying families may not be able to access parcels every week, or will have to make do with less.
Salvation Army Whangārei manager of community ministries Trevor McLean said volunteers and staff are "managing the day-to-day, but behind the scenes are prepping for more demand".
On Friday the Government announced a $7 million boost in funding for food security networks operating at level 4.
The extra funding will help with the distribution of an additional 60,000 food parcels, and 10,000 wellbeing packs, through providers such as those that have the Community Connection Service.
However, that is not expected to meet the increased demand and more is needed.
Since lockdown began on August 18, Salvation Army Whangārei has been delivering 30 to 40 food parcels a day, mainly in Whangārei, when the demand was usually 50 to 70 for the entire week.
McLean said they have also been getting requests from residents in Ruakākā, Dargaville, Kaikohe and Kawakawa.
"The first three days (of lockdown) were pretty quiet...but there are definitely a lot more [requests] starting to come through now,'' he said on Friday.
"People are realising now that the lockdown will probably go on for a bit longer, and even if it goes to level 3 it's still pretty much the same."
McLean said the wellbeing of staff and volunteers would be balanced with the demand for food parcels during this lockdown.
Thirty workers are operating in two teams to give everyone a rest, and "make sure we're here for a possible long haul".
"The last lockdown we were doing 900 parcels a week; I'm not expecting us to be able to maintain that this time around.
"It was a different way of operating back then. Because it was an unknown, everything went into it. This time, if the number picks up, we've just got to do what we can.
"We're constantly reviewing the situation; we've got to find that right balance."
Demand for food parcels and limited resources meant families "can't expect one every week".
"Because there is a demand and we have limited resources we have to share food parcels out equally," McLean said.
"We've got to manage the demand within the community.
"Hopefully it won't come down to that but it's more about curbing people's expectations that they're going to get a food parcel every week."
155 Whare Āwhina, which runs the 155 Open Arms homeless centre in Whangārei, has set up an online fundraising page after its food bank stocks started running low due to exceptionally high demand for food parcels.
Chief executive Liz Cassidy-Nelson said they've been receiving calls from people who can't access online shopping due to supermarkets' own massive demand for food.
"We've had lots of single parents who could order online but it takes five days. For those without vehicles they can't walk miles to get kai.
"There are people with mobility issues, and children that go to school who usually get breakfast and lunch - all those resources have been removed.
"All those things add to demand. There's been a definite increase."
Cassidy-Nelson said they are also experiencing a "supply issue" as the local supermarkets who usually supply them with bulk products scramble to keep their own shelves stocked.
"They [supermarkets] have had people panic buy, so they in turn have this demand issue.
"We don't have enough stock. Our food parcels have only ever been three days of food, we've had to make them smaller."
Cassidy-Nelson encouraged Northlanders who were struggling to apply for a food grant through the Ministry of Social Development.
Women's Refuge Tryphina House team leader Jodie Harris said lots of families they work with are also experiencing significant financial stresses.
"They are worried how they will manage to pay their increasingly higher power bills, rent increases and feed their children who are now at home all day."
Harris said the Government wage subsidy is nowhere near enough, especially because employees must pay tax on the subsidy they receive.
Full-time workers receive $600 a week and part-time workers $359 per week if their employer expects a loss of 40 per cent of revenue as a result of the alert level increase.
However, the Work and Income website states: "Employees will need to pay tax on their wage subsidy payment as it is paid to them as part of their normal wages.
"This means it's subject to the usual employer deductions, eg, PAYE, student loan, KiwiSaver, child support etc."
New Zealanders on low incomes, not only those on a benefit, can also apply for a food grant through Work and Income if they find themselves in a situation where they don't have enough money to pay for food.