My happy place is the Auckland City Mission Christmas Lunch. It's the most beautiful bedlam you could imagine.

I've been volunteering for it for close to 20 years. It started when my daughters were little and we decided to show them that we need to give something back - do something for somebody else on a day some people struggle with.

Christmas can be a very take-take-take thing and it was a salutary lesson to my daughters that there are people out there who need to be looked after.

For some people, Christmas can be lonely and there are a lot of disadvantaged people out there who probably need one day of the year to be made a bit special.


The girls volunteered with me in their early teens, which was really good for them and they got a kick out of it, too. It was an important part of their upbringing.

My biggest responsibility is setting up for the event. My Christmas Day starts at 6.30am, after a bit of preparation the day before.

It's absolutely full-on. My partner, Ruth, volunteers too, and we don't get home until the late afternoon.

We start with 125 volunteers and a bare venue - this year the Viaduct Events Centre - and in three hours we transform it into a festive and colourful place, ready for the people to come in at 11.30am.

I love it when it all comes together. It's fun, everybody's in a good mood, and it's the most wonderful organised chaos. No two years are the same - there are always different problems to tackle.

One year we had a small fire in one of the kitchens. It wasn't a good look to see all the fire engines roll up just as we were serving lunch, but you get over these things. It was just part of the day.

Just after the lunch I'm involved with the clean-up crew. We have about 50 people coming in to help with the clean-up, which is huge, as you can imagine.

We get the same volunteers in year after year to spend a few hours helping out before they go home to have their own Christmas festivities. It's almost like a family - it's a wonderful atmosphere.

You arrive home at the end of the day absolutely buggered but with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. It's a great time, and it encapsulates the essence of Christmas. I love my Christmas Day.

- as told to Bronwyn Sell