A brazen robbery at the Fiesta of Lights has been described as a "kick in the guts" for the community event.
A robber snatched $1200 in cash after waiting until a security guard was distracted then tackling a teenage volunteer.
The offender, who had an accomplice in a waiting car, struck about 11.15pm on Thursday night, just as the light display at Hawke's Bay Showgrounds was closing.
Organiser Te Rangi Huata said a robber "manhandled" a young male staff member who was wearing the money bag around his neck, tore off the bag then fled across a paddock to a waiting car on Kenilworth Rd.
A female assistant was also present, but the security guard had just walked away to close the front gate.
"They must know our routine because it is at that time we are at our most vulnerable," Mr Huata said.
"We've always been conscious of security - we had a weakness there for 30 seconds out of three hours. We're all actually sickened by the experience."
The teen, a senior student from Lindisfarne College, was "shaken but unhurt".
He gave chase but landed in a pothole when jumping a fence and wasn't able to catch up to the offender.
The event had been targeted by light-fingered thieves twice before, with a $2000 lighting board stolen in 2008, and 500m of fairy lights taken in 2005. The lights were later returned.
Event manager Billi Glover said the loss of the cash was a blow for organisers, who had managed with reduced funds this year.
"It's been a little bit of a kick in the guts," he said.
"We tried our best to run the place this year with minimal funding.
"We had a great response from people and it's a pity that this has poured a bit of cold water on it."
Takings from the light show don't cover costs of running the community event, which draws thousands of people, including many out-of-town visitors.
Ngati Kahungunu Iwi and other sponsors provided funding, but council funding was cut from $20,000 to $10,000, resulting in the live Christmas Eve show and fireworks being scrapped.
Hastings Police Detective Senior Sergeant Dave de Lange said police had interviewed the victim and carried out forensic examinations.
"If anybody from the public has any information that can assist that would be greatly appreciated," he says.
The fiesta ends tonight with a Rugby World Cup tribute, featuring Kiwiana, South African, French, Japanese and Scottish music set to lights.