With the Covid-19 lockdown only five days in, people struggling to make ends meet in the Taupō district are running out of options.

Taupō Community Foodbank has closed because of the risk of cross-contamination from food parcels and the rules that prohibit people coming into close proximity with each other.

About the only avenue left to people who need extra support is to contact the Ministry of Social Development for help, said Eileen Devane, manager of Taupō's Awhina Society which runs the town's foodbank and Taupō Women's Refuge.

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Work & Income service centres, including Taupō's are currently closed and today the phone lines were overloaded, but the Work & Income website workandincome.govt.nz has a Covid-19 page with information.

Mrs Devane said people who are already Work & Income clients should have a My MSD login which they can use on the Work & Income website to apply for extra assistance. Those who are not existing clients can register for My MSD on the website.

Mrs Devane said at present, all the Taupō Community Foodbank has been able to do is collect donated food from Countdown Taupō four days a week. Most of this is being passed on to elderly people living in Taupō District Council pensioner housing, many of whom had mobility issues and were unable to get to the shops. Leftover food, such as bread, is being put into the pataka (community food pantry) outside Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Whakarewa on Waikato St.

Mrs Devane said the foodbank has had to stop direct contact with clients or leaving out free fresh food because of the risk of cross-contamination but it would continue to work closely with Taupō Budget House. People needing help should contact Budget House. However, she hoped that once the extra $25 per week for beneficiaries kicked in on Wednesday, April 1, that would offer families some relief.

Awhina Society also runs Taupō Women's Refuge and the safe house is in lockdown with only one family in it and cannot accept more. Mrs Devane said Awhina was keeping in close contact with police and other services by Skype each day to see what it could provide, including contacting people at risk by phone and making safety plans with them. She acknowledged that for people experiencing family violence, it was a difficult time.

"Because they are locked up and can't go anywhere, people are just getting frustrated with each other."

Foodbank coordinator Megan George said that even before the lockdown began, there was a jump in demand, with the service had been seeing people who had lost their jobs or whose income had dropped.

Some people had spent what spare money they did have before the lockdown stocking up on items like bleach, toilet paper and sanitiser, while panic buyers who could afford to stockpile had left none of the cheaper budget and house brands behind for those who could not afford premium brands.

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Ms George called on local supermarkets to lower prices on staples so that people who are suddenly without work can afford to buy enough food, or for the government to force though a drop in the price of food basics. She also said it was time for WINZ to be more lenient with people in hardship.

Taupō Community Foodbank staff and board members. Back row (L to R): Kevin Taylor, Eileen Devane. Front row: Jade Shortland, Megan George, John Pendergrast. Photo / File
Taupō Community Foodbank staff and board members. Back row (L to R): Kevin Taylor, Eileen Devane. Front row: Jade Shortland, Megan George, John Pendergrast. Photo / File

If people have a surplus of fresh food, instead of dropping it off at foodbank, which is shut, Ms George says it would be helpful if people were able to cook the food and freeze it to donate later.

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Maggie Stewart, chairperson of Tūrangi Foodbank, says people panic buying before the lockdown had created extra stress for those already struggling to afford food.

The foodbank has limited stocks and Mrs Stewart said it could only provide food to those in extreme hardship.

However it was today thrown a lifeline, with the King Country Electric Power Trust announcing it would donate $20,000 to local foodbanks in Tūrangi, Taumarunui and Ohakune.

"We know that there is an immediate need within our communities" said trust chairman Adie Doyle. "Resources were getting low in all three areas as a result of Covid -19 and we were happy to assist in this regard."

The Salvation Army says it is continuing to operate in line with lock-down protocols.

It advises that those in need should ring WINZ in the first instance, and ask family and friends for help where possible.

"We are hopeful that most people have whānau, friends or work colleagues who can help them at this time, however, we know many people do not," Assistant Territorial Secretary for Mission, Captain Gerry Walker said.

"We are expecting more and more families to be under financial strain in the coming weeks."

The Salvation Army is concerned about the growing demand for food from people who are finding themselves struggling to buy groceries due to the Covid-19 lock down.

Foodbank demand rose by a third last week, with particular spikes in Auckland and Northland, and increased demand in Christchurch.

The Salvation Army Community Finance team is also available to speak to people experiencing financial hardship via a phone call or Skype session. Call 0800 854 009.