If one thing more than any other brought almost 600 people together on Christmas day in Whanganui it was loneliness.

"Hello, I'm Dave, Merry Christmas,"said one of the 450 guests as he joined a table of strangers.

It did not take long for those strangers to become new acquaintances, however. A scene that played itself over many times.

Karrie Brown is manager of the City Mission which as well as organising the Christmas day dinner also runs the city's foodbank and a budgeting service.

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Today's dinner was held at the Whanganui Racecourse as the Memorial Hall - the usual venue - is undergoing earthquake strengthening work.
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Steve Parks from California serves sumptuous hot spuds.
Steve Parks from California serves sumptuous hot spuds.

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A "small army" of volunteers - about 120 - helped serve hot potatoes, ham and other sumptuous Christmas fare.

Brown said about the same number of people turned up this year as last, but that was because the numbers were capped. "I'm sure if there was a venue big enough there'd be more."

Loneliness was the most common reason for attending, she said. Even amongst the volunteers.

That was certainly true for volunteer table waitress Judith Browne.

With family overseas she said "it just feels right" to lend a hand and share the day with others.
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Clockwise from left: Jojo Roberston, Tanana Teteka, Steve Robertson, Bernice Newland, Jennie Reynolds, Patricia Sheridan, Johnny Robertson, Teingoa Robertson, Emelink Robertson.
Clockwise from left: Jojo Roberston, Tanana Teteka, Steve Robertson, Bernice Newland, Jennie Reynolds, Patricia Sheridan, Johnny Robertson, Teingoa Robertson, Emelink Robertson.

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Stu and Vanessa Duncan - teenagerless this Christmas - also volunteered. "It's nice to give back to the community, to be part of it and come together on this special day," said Stuart.

Julie Edwards, Wendy Johns, Margaret Innes, Bill Little, Lyne Flavell ... just a few of the volunteers who spoke with the Chronicle, each had similar reasons for volunteering.

Flavell's son-in-law Steve Parks is from California and has been "on both sides of community meals".

"I grew up in orphanages and foster homes. Lately I've been volunteering at Thanksgiving dinners."

He said he chose to volunteer this year as he knew first hand how much it can mean to some people.

"Sometimes it is the small things that can make a major difference."
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Volunteers serve hot meals at yesterday's Christmas day dinner.
Volunteers serve hot meals at yesterday's Christmas day dinner.

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Karrie Brown said the day was made possible by the generosity of the volunteers and also paid tribute to John Baxter of the Eulogy Lounge catering team for going the extra mile.

"We have real cutlery this year, not disposable plastic."