More than 11,000 people received emergency food parcels in Northern Ireland last year, it has been claimed.
As well as churches and community organisations, at least 14 food banks distributed essentials to impoverished families - a sevenfold increase on the number of people requiring help three years ago, according to a leading advice organisation.
Bob Stronge, chief executive of Advice NI, said: "This is a terrible situation which needs to be understood and addressed."
Over the last 12 months the Trussell Trust, which operates the majority of food banks here, provided more than 11,000 adults and children with three days' emergency food and support - up 489% on the number helped during the previous financial year.
Storehouse, another food bank operating in the region since 2008, also handed out supplies.
Advice NI said it was aware that a number of other independent food banks had been set up to help people in crisis in Belfast, Greater Belfast and Bwallynahinch.
Mr Stronge added: "We don't have exact figures yet, but it is clear that there are a significant number of community organisations and churches who are providing food to those in need."