A merry crowd of 2800 filled the tables on two floors of the Viaduct Events Centre yesterday for the Auckland City Mission's annual Christmas dinner while outside 150 were given packaged roast dinners for a picnic.

After last year's queues at the door, room was found for an extra 100 places on the ground floor and a contingency plan to open up 130 places upstairs was brought into action.

City Missioner Diane Robertson said the 550 volunteers made the two days of food preparation a "well oiled machine. It was absolutely smooth sailing and staff did a brilliant job".

She said there were some new faces among the families who came in previous years.


Many of them came by a free bus from all over metropolitan Auckland - thanks to passes sent with their dinner-booking tickets.

The mission also brought along its clients who were homeless or in support programmes for drug and alcohol problems.

Cooking by volunteers began at 6am and others came to decorate the tables with balloons, crackers and to wrap gifts for distribution after the meal by Santa and helpers.

"Everyone had a gift," said first-year Santa helper Hilary Eason. "They loved it, especially the kids. They are so nice."

After an hour of entertainment came the first course of roast chicken or ham, with gravy and roast kumara, gourmet potatoes, beans and carrots. Dessert was icecream, jelly and fruit and traditional Christmas cake.

The event is New Zealand's largest Christmas lunch. Throughout the month, the mission has been trying to raise $900,000 for running its social services as well as Christmas activities, which included distributing food hampers and 25,000 presents to low-income families in Auckland.

Fundraising team leader Liam Willis said about $700,000 was raised.

"We need more donations to reach our target which is how much we need to fund the year's activities."

Celebrating together
Teresa Dee, New Lynn
"My kids are in Australia and I've come here for nine or 10 years. Each year is better. I think the volunteers are great. A friend helps out at the Mission and makes sure all who want to come can get tickets. I know two people at my table. We met up here."

Hare Wihongi, City
"It is my first time in this building. I was outside last year. I had the opportunity from the Auckland Mission to help them prepare stuff for the homeless. I like volunteering for the homeless and also the young ones. I think homelessness is understood but some people do not want to know there are homeless. They just think of themselves."

Ana Tangi, Otahuhu
"We come from the pensioner flats. The kids have married and now it's just my husband Sione and I. This is a wonderful event and a happy place."

June Phillips, Takanini
"We started the day early at 9 o'clock to get the bus. This is our third year and the reason we come is we have a variety of food that we never have at home. It's not easy with the financial side of things. I have seven kids. The other four preferred to stay with their dad. I have always enjoyed it here and I always will come."

Patrick Pang, New Lynn
"My wife Lucy and I have come here for the first time in the five years we have lived in Auckland. This is where you come to celebrate Christmas in the city. I like that other people come here to be together and be happy. I am retired and from China. I was an electronics engineer. We came because my son emigrated to New Zealand over 10 years ago."