Spiralling living costs have shifted the poverty line in Northland, with more middle-income families seeking budget advice and food parcels every week.
A budgeting adviser described the situation as "pretty scary", while a Whangārei-based charity has to fork out an additional $150 a week for fuel to deliver food parcels as far away as Dargaville.
"The situation is changing from just beneficiaries to everyday mums and dads, even those on mortgages that are increasingly seeking help. It's getting scary," Whangārei Anglican Care Centre budgeting co-ordinator Dianne Harris said.
She said each struggling family is having to put aside $20 to $40 extra a week for food and at least $30 for petrol.
"Power costs are starting to rise ... everything is going up except the wages. Bills come first and unfortunately, food comes last. People are having to learn new ways of dealing with the food crisis."
The centre, which has between 200 and 300 clients, provides free budgeting advice and courses on financial literacy, such as tips to save money.
Many families had gradually started to act upon budget advice, which was beginning to make a difference in their lives, she said.
Harris said families who took advantage of Afterpay, offered by a lot of businesses, did not realise how periodic repayments were affecting their overall budget.
Whangārei Salvation Army community ministries social worker Teneille Johnson said besides food and rent, power and petrol costs had put significant stress on people's mental health.
"The poverty line has shifted. Where poverty was mostly confined to beneficiaries and low-income families, it has now shifted to working families, and it's rising.
"We're seeing large families, homeless people, those living in cars and couch surfers turning up for food parcels. Times are really hard," Johnson said.
More than 50 food parcels are given out every week and the Salvation Army also drops boxes of bread to local schools and church ministries.
There is a takeaway dinner at the Recovery Church every Friday evening.
The Whangārei RSA women's section this week donated non-perishable items to the local Salvation Army and Johnson said it was a wonderful gesture from the women for considering those who are in need of food.
"A lot of women are grandmothers and great-grandmothers who feel it's something we can do to contribute to families that are struggling. We bought food and ran a raffle," women's section secretary Nancy Hawks said.
Tinned food, knitted items, toiletries, flour and sugar were among the goods donated.
Kaitaia Community House manager Nita King there has been an increase in demand for food parcels as families find themselves stretched to pay for other essentials, such as servicing mortgages and power costs.
"Our people are pretty resilient but they are struggling with a number of things. We are always looking for homes as two to three families are living in cramped conditions."
King said the community house has a garden that helped families with kai and her staff also visited people in their homes to give power-saving tips.
The power they saved was then put back into heating, she said.
Soul Food, which provides free meals on Monday nights and delivers food parcels in Whangārei and Dargaville, is another charity that is overwhelmed with demand.
"More people are walking in for meals and so far this week we've given out 40 parcels in Whangārei, including quite a few people that have been laid-off during Covid," co-founder Chris Youens said.
Rising petrol prices have been a killer recently, he said.
"We need at least $150 more a week for fuel and that comes from our pocket. Some weeks, we only deliver one food parcel to Dargaville, last week we did five so fuel cost is a big component."
Ministry of Social Development benefit figures at the end of March show 10,797 Northlanders were given jobseeker support, 4656 received sole parent benefit and 234 in other benefits.
There were 1282 people waiting to get into social housing in Northland at the end of March, while the ministry approved 628 emergency housing special-needs grants totalling $740,140 in the first quarter of this year.
Need help saving money? Check out these tips
• Delete apps like Afterpay and Laybuy to curb impulsive shopping
• Switch power suppliers and save up to $1000 a year if you're a moderate to heavy power user
• Sell under-used vehicles and avoid ongoing costs
• Take lunch to work rather than buy in town
• Consider cancelling contents insurance if you don't own much of value