Hundreds of families from as far away as Hamilton are queuing at the Auckland City Mission for help to put food on the table this Christmas.
City Missioner Diane Robertson said the queue started at 1am on Monday after word got out on social media that Work and Income staff would be at the mission's Hobson St offices from this week to process applications for emergency help.
The mission gave out 125 food parcels on Monday, compared with 39 on the first day a similar pre-Christmas Work and Income service opened last year.
It closed when the queue reached 200 families on Tuesday, up from 160 on the second day last year, and expected to feed a further 200 families yesterday.
Ms Robertson said the mission did not advertise the service, but word got out through local Work and Income offices and spread through word of mouth and social media. Vanisa Samuel, 34, from Papatoetoe, saw it on a Facebook site called South Side Freebies.
Trudy Tapu, 25, grew up in Mangere and came last year and the year before. She now lives in Hamilton, but drove up to stay with her mum on Tuesday night and was in the queue by 6am yesterday.
"They don't have many places like this in Hamilton so it was worth my $20 gas to come here," she said.
All those who spoke to the Herald were on benefits, with no cash to spare for all the extra costs of Christmas. Eleanor Anaru, a 20-year-old solo mum cradling her 5-month-old son Te Kahurangi, pays $400 a week rent and usually has only $20-$40 a week for food. Her electricity is on a pre-paid card-operated system and has cut off five times this year when she had no cash to top up.
Ms Robertson said all the families first had to check their entitlements from Work and Income, which provides food grants in hardship cases of up to $450 in a half-year for families with one or two children or $550 for larger families.
"Eighty per cent still have some entitlement. That is often small, so we adjust what they get," Ms Robertson said. A family might have $40 left which Work and Income would load on to a payment card to be spent at specified supermarkets, and the mission would then give them a food parcel "but not necessarily the bread and milk or something like that".
Standard food parcels were prepared depending on the size of each family, valued at $65 for a family of four or $17 for a single person. Most included canned food, sausages, milk, bread, margarine and spreads, flour, rice, pasta, cereal, biscuits, teabags, sugar, fresh vegetables, one toilet roll, soap and shampoo.
From this week until Christmas, families that qualify for food parcels are also given gifts for the children.
Ms Robertson said the food and gifts were funded by donations. The mission gave out 11,349 food parcels in the past year and aims to raise $1.3 million in its Christmas appeal.
This year's household economic survey found there were 214,500 households (12.9 per cent of the total) who said their income was not enough to meet their needs. This was down from a peak of 295,200 households (18.5 per cent) in 2010.
Charlie Holmes and Ange Tuala, Henderson
Just knowing the City Mission can help with food and presents at this time of year takes some of the stress off Ange Tuala, 41, and Charlie Holmes, 40, who have children aged 10 and 5 and twins 4. "Because we don't have much family support, I'd say last year, when I found about this, it was a great relief," said Ms Tuala. Both parents are on benefits for health reasons. "If I have a lot of hospital and doctor's bills I know I can come here and get a food parcel," Ms Tuala said. "I'm very grateful to the City Mission."
Betty Morris, Mt Wellington
Sole parent Betty Morris, 26, lives in a state house with her three children aged 2, 1 and seven weeks. She had not been to the City Mission before. "Last year I was doing all right. Now it's just getting harder because I have a hire-purchase and too much money trouble. I can't afford the payments after buying all my newborn stuff," she said. "My mum used to come here when we had money troubles."
Vanisa Samuel, Papatoetoe
Vanisa Samuel, 34, has been a sole parent since she had her first child 12 years ago. Her eldest daughter's father died when he was just 40, and the father of her youngest son, 4-year-old Haina, died at 49. Her three older children live with an aunty so only Haina lives with her in a state house. This was her first visit to the City Mission after hearing about it on Facebook. "The previous years I was pretty good, I knew how to budget, but these days it's getting a more difficult. It's just expensive," she said. She has worked in hospitality in the past and is looking for work. "I'll do anything."
Eleanor Anaru, Mangere
Eleanor Anaru receives a sole-parent benefit of $299.45 plus family tax credit of $92.73 and an accommodation supplement that lifts her income to about $500 a week. She pays $400 for rent, leaving just $100. "That $100 pays for power and his nappies, and I'm then left with maybe $20 or $40 for food. We have run out of food this year," she said. "We've run out of power five times."
Trudy Tapu, Hamilton
Trudy Tapu, 25, has three children aged 9, 8 and 6, with a fourth due in July. Her partner is a seasonal farm worker who has just finished a job, so the family are on a jobseeker benefit. "I came here last year and the year before. I used to live in Auckland," said Trudy. "I brought my brother and the whole family, just for the Christmas spirit."
Shontae Anaru, Mangere
Eleanor Anaru's parents' god-daughter Shontae, 25, came with her to the mission with her two boys Te Ngahue o Terangi, 3, and baby Manutane. The family live in a state house with her father and her sister, 2. Cheaper rent and two benefits coming into the house mean her situation is not as desperate as Eleanor's, but there is still no money to spare. "I'm hoping for a food grant."