More than 300 people a day are visiting the Auckland City Mission in need of food parcels to get them through the Christmas period - with numbers expected to exceed last year's by 1000.
Families and individuals in need are queuing from 3am, travelling from all over the city to be in line for the Christmas supplies, which also include a gift for each child under 18.
Demand is so high the charity organisation still "desperately needs" donations, City Missioner Dame Diane Robertson said.
Hundreds of people were milling about outside the mission building on Hobson St yesterday morning, all waiting for their number to be called. Many had no choice but to bring their whole family with them, and kids sat patiently in the street with their parents as they waited.
Big numbers of people have been coming to the mission each day since early December, Dame Diane said, and the demand was on track to exceed the number of people they helped last year.
"The figures will probably be an extra 1000 over last year...," she said.
"The most interesting thing is that a third of those people are new. They have never come to us before ... that's quite significant really."
The increase in the number of people needing help was "a reflection of the child poverty stats", Dame Diane said, which rose from 15 per cent of all children in 1984 to 29 per cent last year, according to a Child Poverty Monitor report out last week.
"The reality is in Auckland the housing prices are very high and even if people are in social houses - and not everybody lives in social housing - the amount left over after rent is significantly lower than it used to be. So after your rent, your debt, power and stuff, there's just nothing left. People end up asking for charity. Charity fills the gap."
The food parcels and presents given to needy families this week would help prevent people being "incredibly miserable over the Christmas period", she said, as well as relieving the stress and frustration that can lead to domestic violence.
"It's more than food; it takes down their stress levels, it enables them to relax and perhaps enjoy Christmas a little bit more, and that in turn drops the threshold for violence and difficulties there. It's more than a can of baked beans, that's for real."
The mission "desperately needs people to put their hands in their pockets", she said.
"It's a really urgent appeal because we're probably 30 per cent behind in donations."
She added: "At this time of the year it's about monetary donations. And they don't have to stop on Christmas Day, those donations can continue after Christmas to support the work."
Aroha Moka, 37, lives with her husband and seven of her nine children in a one-bedroom sleepout at her parents' house in Takanini.
"I came because I heard that they could help out with families that were struggling over the Christmas season. I've got seven kids with me today [aged 3 to 12].
"It's kind of been a hard year for us actually. It's just been one of those years where things have happened and we're still waiting on Housing New Zealand and waiting on housing.
"We were supposed to move to Christchurch to try to start up down there, because there's quite a bit of work there for my husband, but then my dad got really ill, and I just couldn't bring myself to move down when he was still quite ill. But in the meantime, we'd given up our home and everything, so we've ended up pretty much homeless, and it's just been a struggle to get back into a rental or anything at the moment.
"And [my husband] has just been going through temping agencies and getting work here and there.
"We heard [the City Mission] was helping out this year with food, and even some presents.
"This year I wasn't even going to be able to buy a present for my kids - which in a way is kind of good because it takes you back to the real meaning of Christmas, without all the pressure from advertising and all the things that they see that they want, we just can't get this year for them."
She would be happy for "anything" from the mission.
"I think it's amazing [what they do] ... just watching the amount of people that have been here ... I mean, I'm number 261, and I've just spoken to some that have been here since 4am.
"It shows the struggle that a lot of people are going through. I just take my hat off to the mission."
Charelle Rapana, a solo mother to 5-year-old Korowai, is from Papakura.
They're awesome [at the City Mission]. It's a big help, it's a big help for everybody, I think that's why it's always packed here.
"It's the first time I've come. It was my son's birthday last week, so that's why I'm here," she said, needing extra help with food and a present.
"They're awesome [at the City Mission]. It's a big help, it's a big help for everybody, I think that's why it's always packed here."
Ms Rapana, who is in the social welfare system, said she considered turning around when she saw the size of the queue, but said the wait would be worth it.
"Financially, it means a lot. Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
Purea Fulton, 47, is from Manukau.
"I just need help with food and all that. I went to Winz and asked them for some temporary additional support and they said no. And after I paid my bills and all that I get to live on $50 a week. What can you really do with $50?
"Even a thing like a bus fare to get out here cost me $15 from Manukau. So what I get from here leaves me about $20 to get some meat.
"It's just for me, so as long as I can get some food ... "
The mission was "helping a lot of people", he said.
"I'm right into supporting them when I can."
It's been like this every year. I usually go to the local food bank, but when I went there this morning, they were already full.
It was Mr Fulton's first time coming to the City Mission, but said it's not the first time he's been forced to ask for help.
"It's been like this every year. I usually go to the local food bank, but when I went there this morning, they were already full."
He added: "It would have been better if they had the buses; before you could get an all-day pass for $30, so I can do both trips with that. But now everything's changed ... it's kind of like I pay double just to come out here."
Paula Edwards, 41, is a solo mum of nine from Papakura.
"I come down here every year. I'm on the benefit but it's not enough. I just barely live from Tuesday to Tuesday, but this is a big help coming here, and you get presents for your kids, food parcels. It's awesome.
"I just sort of manage with what I get, but it's hard."
The food parcels from the City Mission meant "everything" to her and her family, she said.
[I was here] at 5am last year. I came here at 3am today and I've been waiting ever since. I'm number 121 and I'm still waiting. I think everyone waits.
"It's got things that I can't afford sometimes and the presents, I get one present for each child.
"I really want to donate something back, but I can't. I'm so poor. But that's life."
The City Mission was "a big help", Ms Edwards said, adding that yesterday's crowd was bigger than last year's.
"[I was here] at 5am last year. I came here at 3am today and I've been waiting ever since. I'm number 121 and I'm still waiting. I think everyone waits."
She has also gone to the Salvation Army for help in previous years.
Tira Aporo, 40, lives with his partner and two children, aged 6 and 7, in Panmure:
"[I'm] just basically getting some help through the system to help with situations at home. People are struggling these days with financial difficulties and so on.
"It's actually my first time here. It's something new to me really."
Mr Aporo blamed the "huge drop on benefit" and changes to the welfare system for forcing him to rely on the City Mission this year for the first time.
Some families don't have financial assistance to provide for their family, so I think what City Mission is doing is really good.
Mr Aporo claims a sickness benefit. He is looking for part-time work without success.
"A lot of people are struggling, and I suppose that people can only come to City Mission to get financial assistance, or food-wise, or whatever it is that they need."
For him, it came down to "being able to support the family", he said.
"Especially through this time of Christmas, it's one of the toughest times of the year being unable to assist your family or try to find a way to assist them, and at the moment the Government's not helping out with that. They've got a lot stricter than they used to be, and they've made it really difficult for everybody."
A food parcel would be "a great help", he said, "especially through the Christmas and New Year's period where some families don't have financial assistance to provide for their family, so I think what City Mission is doing is really good".
The Auckland City Mission Christmas Appeal runs until the New Year and donations are still needed. Visit becomesomeonesangel.co.nz or call 09 303 9200 to donate.