Every week another 300 families struggling to put food on the table are turning to the Salvation Army for help, the organisation says.
In the year to September, it recorded a 7 percent increase in requests for food parcels compared to the previous year - the biggest rise since 2011.
In some regions, including Hawke's Bay, Taranaki and Southland, food parcel requests had increased by 30 percent.
Community ministries secretary Pam Waugh said the difficulty of securing affordable housing, mounting debts and bills were factors.
"We've noticed families have a lot of debt, and that's a build up from things they haven't been able to pay for, stuff that's gone to debt collectors, just managing their day to day costs and getting what they need.
"When you're struggling week after week with things like that, the first thing that goes is food. That's the one you can go without and they cut down on their basic needs."
Ms Waugh said unexpected situations, such as a family member getting sick, made people's situations worse.
"It's a combination of everything, as things build up on them, then they might get a sudden emergency, such as a car that breaks down or a child who gets sick or something else goes wrong, they don't have a resilience in their financial capability to pay for those things so they get trapped into more debt."
Most of the people asking for help had children, but there was an increase in requests for assistance from single men.
Ms Waugh feared Christmas expenses and back-to-school pressures would make it even more difficult in the coming months for those living pay day to pay day.