The Auckland City Mission says demand is soaring for food and presents as desperate families worry about being able to celebrate Christmas after a tough year.
Requests for food parcels had been twice as high as usual throughout the year because of the Covid-19 pandemic and had remained steady in the lead-up to Christmas.
The charity has been distributing around 1000 parcels a week, up from 450 the previous year, and had given out 9000 food parcels in the week leading up to Christmas.
Last week, the charity's phone lines crashed after 70,000 calls in a day from families seeking food or gifts. Many of those were from individuals calling hundreds of times - highlighting their desperation for support.
"This environment post-Covid is definitely creating more demand than usual," said Auckland City Missioner Chris Farrelly.
"It is in line with what we've been experiencing throughout the year - a doubling of demand for emergency food."
He added: "We cannot meet everyone's needs and demands. There is actually a limit. We are stretching that as much as we can at the moment."
After a year in which families were hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, the city mission had also received just half its usual number of gift donations to give away to low-income families.
"Many families have said 'I can't afford a present' so that hit us a little bit," Farrelly said. "So we have been asking for help with presents."
Among the hardship were stories of generosity. In one case, a mother drove from Te Awamutu to donate gifts to the mission, saying her family had made the decision to go without presents for themselves and give to others instead.
And after discovering the shortage of gifts at the city mission's distribution centre, two executives from TheMarket (The Warehouse Group) dropped off around 500 toys.
"We learnt through a team member that the Auckland City Mission were very low on kids' presents this year, particularly gifts for children aged 8 years and older," said The Market's general manager for trade, Sarah Gunn.
"We managed to pull together over 470 gifts including boxed book sets, Nerf guns, water blasters, Hot Wheels, Paw Patrol toys, board games, beach toys, body boards, and beauty goodies from our partners at L'Oreal Group, who were also keen to help out."
The most common applications for support were from mothers, many of whom wanted to make sure their children were not socially isolated at Christmas compared to their peers.
The Auckland City Mission also noticed a growing number of first-time applications and working families seeking support.
A briefing to Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni, published last week, said that the "working poor" now made up a large proportion of New Zealanders in financial hardship. Around half of those in low-income households had at least one full-time worker.
"There is money coming into the house, but it barely pays the rent," Farrelly said. "A large proportion of our population cannot literally afford nutritious food every day. Food becomes a discretionary item for some families."
Even before the Christmas period, the number of families seeking help with putting food on the table was rising.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) gave out 113,717 special needs grants for groceries in November alone - 12 per cent more than a year ago. Demand peaked in April, during level 4 lockdown, when 70,000 families a week received grants.
MSD regional commissioner for Auckland Mark Goldsmith said 22 case managers had been placed at five city mission sites across Auckland this year.
"Christmas and the holidays can be a difficult time of year for some. We're encouraging people to come see us or talk to us if they need help.
"If the marae, City Mission or community site staff identify someone who may be eligible for financial assistance through a food grant, our MSD staff are there to process this for them."
The city mission is not holding its traditional Christmas Day lunch for 2000 people this year because of concerns about large gatherings in a confined space during a pandemic. It is instead holding five smaller lunches at separate venues.
If you would like to contribute, donations can be made on the Auckland City Mission's website. Non-perishable food items and gifts for 0-16 year-olds can be dropped to the distribution centre at 15 Auburn St, Grafton.