By Nita Blake-Persen of RNZ

Some babies are being dropped at pre-school with no formula or nappies, and toddlers are going without shoes or lunches in the middle of winter.

More than 70 early childhood centres have put their hands up to request food, clothing and hygiene products from the children's charity Kidscan after it launched a programme to help under-5s last October.

Currently, 25 centres are receiving assistance but dozens more - caring for around 3000 children - say they need help too.

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One of those centres is Te Papapa Pre-school in Auckland - where head teacher Liz Ferris said children often arrived without lunches, or enough clothing to keep them warm.

"We've had families where their children have needed formula but their families couldn't afford it, so they've switched them to cow's milk," she said.

The pre-school provides a free breakfast, warm meals where possible and tops up lunches when kids don't have enough.

There is also donated clothing and nappies available for whānau in need, and a van to pick up children who can't be dropped off in cold weather because their parents don't have a car.

"While money is not plentiful within our pre-school 'love and caring' is. We try our absolute best to ensure we do everything we can to support."

Ferris said that came at a cost to the centre's resources.

"We rob Peter to pay Paul constantly to make sure that we can make these ends meet.

"The lunchboxes will come in and they'll be fairly stacked with the high-sugar meals, and that might be on a Monday or a Tuesday, by Wednesday there's half that - and by Thursday there's maybe a half an apple cut up, maybe a fried egg and some toast."

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Alfriston Rd Kindergarten head teacher Preeti Sood said her centre used to have similar struggles.

"We used to have a child only bringing a pie in, in the morning - so that would be for morning tea, as well as for lunch so we had to cut it and ration it out, so you will have a quarter of a pie for morning tea and the rest for lunch ... and that used to break our hearts just to see a child only relying on pie," she said.

Sood said things had changed dramatically since October, when KidsCan began providing children with one fresh meal a day, raincoats, shoes, and head lice treatment.

"After Kidscan started the main difference is children are more settled, more calm, they're busy in their play because there's not too much sugar going in their body," she said.

"Their tummies are full, so once their tummies are full they can be really engrossed in what they are doing."

Kidscan chief executive Julie Chapman said they began working with early childhood centres last year after being approached on a weekly basis by teachers struggling.

"You have your community-based centres, which aren't privately run - most of them or many of them don't charge the parents fees," Chapman said.

"What we're actually seeing is absolutely just abject poverty and it's affecting children at this younger age, and up until now there has been nothing to meet those material and those nutritional needs."

Chapman said Kidscan was assessing the applications made by the 70 early childhood centres and hoped to roll out the programme further, but was in the process of securing funding and donations to do so.

- RNZ