Do you think the City Mission's Christmas lunch should only be for the down and out, or should it be open for anybody who wants a free meal?
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Some of the 2000 people who attended a free Christmas lunch arrived in nice cars, wore good clothing and donned flash jewellery including a watch that looked like a Rolex.

Their appearance has drawn a complaint from a passerby who said they did not appear to be "truly needy" and suggested there should be tougher criteria that allowed goodwill to reach those who really need it.

Tauranga resident Ken Lees, who visited Auckland for four days over Christmas, said he walked past the lunch and was "absolutely disgusted at this display of ungrateful greed".

"We were astounded at the 'needy' - some dressed in label clothing - leaving a large area littered with uneaten food and unopened bottles of water."


He was also "gobsmacked to see hordes of the 'poverty-stricken' pushing each other out of the way, arms outstretched, grovelling. They returned again and again to get more gifts to stash.

"We followed many families back to where they stashed their loot into expensive late-model people-movers."

But organisers have defended their guests, saying many were families who had been receiving food parcels and the lunch was hardly an event from which anyone could profit.

About 2000 people turned up to the Auckland City Mission Christmas Dinner at the Viaduct Events Centre on Christmas Day.

The City Mission had previously helped many of the families, and they had received invitations and free rides to get to the waterfront to enjoy the traditional lunch. The families were vetted by the City Mission by need and to see whether Work and Income might be better placed to help them.

Other people also turned up to the lunch and about 300 extra places were provided to cater for them.

City Missioner Diane Robertson said there were many reasons for people to come - including loneliness and difficulty making ends meet, even without the traditional Christmas plight of homelessness. Anyone who had their family around them and could afford to put on a nice meal would not choose the charity lunch, she said.

"I sort of think if you choose to come to have a meal with thousands of strangers, and get a really small gift, there must be a reason to do that, because on a good day I wouldn't."

Ms Robertson said there was little profit to be had from the meal or the gifts. It was a hard call to say someone did not deserve to be there by the clothes he or she was wearing.

"You don't know if it's a replica or someone has given it to them. It's incredibly difficult to see how you would judge any one of those."

Ungenerous comments about those attending could come from failing to understand how people's lives worked, the City Missioner said.

"We work every day with people who are on very, very low incomes. It's not for us to say they should be grateful - it's an old way of thinking that the poor should be grateful.

"We just appreciate the fact that we can do this.

"Families in New Zealand are really struggling and most of them actually put their best effort into it.

"They try hard and live within their means, and we should be encouraging people who are doing a really good job and not put them in one basket and judge them."