Child poverty is a national, economic and moral crisis that requires a national response, the outgoing head of the Auckland City Mission says.
Dame Diane Robertson is stepping down after 22 years in the job.
She told RNZ's Sunday Morning she despaired that the number of people living in poverty had grown over that time and was calling for a united response from all political parties, churches and community groups.
"It's actually a crisis for our nation that we have a third of children who might not be able to participate. It's an economic crisis, it's a social crisis and it's a moral crisis," Dame Diane said.
The Auckland City Mission said more support had already been given to desperate families so far these holidays than for the entire Christmas period last year.
Dame Diane said one third of those families were receiving help for the first time, which was very unusual.
"I think that just is reflective of what we're seeing on the streets. It's a visible sign of the 29 percent of children going without."
A recent report by the Children's Commissioner found 305,000 New Zealand children now live in poverty - 45,000 more than a year ago.
The report said nearly one in three children now live in poverty - defined as being in a household earning less than 60 percent of the median income after housing costs.
Dame Diane said the overwhelming message she received from people receiving services at the City Mission was that they were in desperate need and had nowhere else to go.
The Mission opened its foodbank on 7 December and unprecedented demand had seen people queuing outside from 4am for a $64 food parcel.
Those are people like Miro, whose house has nine people and one income.
Miro said times were tough and people like her needed help.
"When you've got grandchildren, great grandchildren and your own children that haven't got a job you have to find some way of getting food on the table.
"Life is really hard... when you've got a one income worker at home and a house full of people it's pretty hard to find food out there or money to buy food.
"Back in my days we didn't have to do this because we had gardens," she said.
Temporary help - food and presents - will be given to Miro and her family, and many others who, as Dame Diane said, have nowhere else to go.