20 Dec 2018

Huge demand for Christmas food parcels across NZ

From Checkpoint, 5:44 pm on 20 December 2018

The Auckland City Missioner says unless there is a miracle, more families lining up for Christmas food parcels will leave empty-handed tomorrow.

Food and gift parcels.

Food and gift parcels. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

Hundreds of people queuing at three sites in Auckland have been turned away as the mission grapples with record demand.

Trolleys of cardboard boxes filled with Christmas dinner staples, presents, and the occasional bok choy, flew through Eden Park this morning.

More than 200 people were waiting for their Christmas parcel to be allocated - many of them, some who came from as far as Northland and Waikato, queued outside the building, in the rain, overnight.

Among them, Bella Putu and her mother, brother and niece. They travelled from Huntly earlier in the week, but were turned away as there were not enough parcels to go around.

They returned in the early hours of this morning - joining the queue from 4am.

"Long drives, a lot of money wasted, well not wasted on gas because we got in today, but they didn't take us on Tuesday," Ms Putu said.

They travelled to Auckland for Christmas food parcels last year, too.

"That was awesome as, because at that time me and my husband had lost our jobs, and it was really hard last year so my sister-in-law came down from Auckland and picked me up and brought my all the way to the City Mission and it made a big help last year and this year will be even better," she said.

The food and gifts her family receive take away a lot of stress, Ms Putu said.

"It's just been struggle, struggle, struggle but doing something like this, maybe they should bring it down the Waikato or something so we can all share it," she said.

The City Mission is running three Christmas drives in Auckland this year - at Eden Park,  Ngā Whare Waatea Marae and Papakura Marae.

More than 600 people have been turned away in the last two days - as supply can't keep up with demand.

Nga Whare Waatea Marae in Mangere had run out of its 200 allocated food parcels by three this morning.

The marae's coordinator for the Auckland City Mission's Christmas Drive Veronica Henare said they have no other option but to turn people away.

"We wish that we could give to everyone that comes to our marae but we can't. We only have sufficient supplies each day for up to 200 whanau to come through," Ms Henare said.

Trays of food including mangos, apples and eggs have been donated to the City Mission by members of the public and businesses. This morning Pak'NSave donated $15,000 to the charity.

But Auckland City missioner Chris Farrelly said they still won't be able to help everyone.

"Tomorrow morning, I'm going yet again onto the line and I know I'm going to have to look people in the eye and say 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you've come all this way, you've waited all night, but we can't do what you'd like today'," Mr Farrelly said.

In Hamilton, the Salvation Army has helped just under two hundred families this Christmas.

Captain Jenny Collings said that was 28 percent more than last year.

"Cost of living compared to what is coming into the household just makes things quite desperate," Captain Collings said.

Christchurch City Missioner Mark Matthew is noticing a significant increase in demand for food and gifts too.

"There's been a 45 percent increase on the same time last year, so we've had some record days as far as call on our reserves and on our people," Mr Matthews said.

They have not turned anyone away yet - but only had three days worth of supplies left, Mr Matthews said.

Marlene Bower, who lead the Salvation Army's Christmas drive in Whangarei, said the demand for help had also been strong this year. The assistance was a big relief for poor families, she said.

"That's the biggest thing that I've seen is just the relief on people's faces of knowing they didn't have to struggle to try and get presents for their kids or their kids are actually getting presents this year," Ms Bowler said.

Murray Eldridge from the Wellington City Mission said demand is rising and its from unexpected places.

"We're seeing people come to the mission who have more probably more income than traditionally we've seen people with but because of the costs their facing, particularly costs around accommodation, they're just not coping around this period," Mr Eldridge said.

New Plymouth's food bank manager Sharon Wills said the need for help did not stop at Christmas.

"It's more of a demand coming into the end of January, into February, and then into March once families send kids back to school and they actually get all those bills from Christmas and that's when it's going to hit us," Ms Wills.

For Auckland City Mission the hard work isn't over yet. On Christmas Day, the charity will serve lunch to more than 700 people.