On a Monday in Te Awamutu, volunteers from the Anglican and Catholic churches are busy preparing the evening's meal for those in need.

Much of the food is donated or from their own gardens.

By 4pm, the doors at St John's Anglican Church are flung open and the regulars make their way in.

There's live music, board games and cups of tea poured as everyone catches up over the weekly meal. There's friendship, smiles, cuddles and laughs too - but most importantly hot and nutritious food for those struggling to feed themselves and their families.


"There's always a meal on a Monday," volunteer Johanna Halder said. "We're just here for whoever comes, 52 weeks of the year."

Debbie Oliver is a regular. She's raising two of her grandchildren and has been coming here for the last eight months.

"Me and my grandson, and my son, and the two girls - it's always a lovely meal. I don't eat lettuce and salad and veggies at home, but here I do," Oliver admitted.

The outreach started four years ago after homeless people were sheltering overnight on the church grounds.

"We realised they were not eating very well so we thought at least once a week we can feed them a hot, nutritious meal on a Monday night," Anglican Parish Priest, Stephanie Owen said.

But it's not just homeless people that come these days - anyone and everyone is welcome.

"There were some homeless to start with, there might be a misconception that it's all homeless, but it's not, it's lonely folk," Halder said.

"It's a chance for me, living on my own to come and have a meal, and give. I like my own company, I like people as well."


"It brings people together, different people who wouldn't normally even say hello to each other in the street," Owen said.

"I love that we've got Anglicans and Catholics working together for a start. We've got people, some are homeless, some in low paid jobs, some with mental health illnesses, we've got them all coming together and that's what community should be, everyone coming together, not barriers," Owen said.

"It's good - we have soup, everything, pudding," Philip Patina said. "I had my birthday here in July. I got cake when I turned 59, that was awesome."

Everyone's birthday is celebrated. Arthur Lee's eyes lit up when his upcoming birthday was acknowledged with a gift and song.

"I like it here, people are really great," Lee said. "[At home] we usually have boil-ups and that. I've got a coal range outside, like a wreckers yard, that's where I live."

One day Debbie Oliver plans to cook and give back to the volunteers that have fed her.

Barbara Linton is one of the volunteers. At "78 years young" she needs to keep busy and she gets back just as much as she gives.

"If I don't do something constructive, what do I do with my time?" she said.

Every time she's up town Linton always keeps an eye out for the regular diners, or as she puts it "reading the signs of the times".

Once she even opened her home for the night to a rough sleeper who was heading to Hamilton. And she's started learning te reo from those she's helping.

"You've got to connect with people otherwise you won't know about their needs," Linton said.

"You've got to connect with them, communicate. Then you be their friend, build up trust, that's where the outreach meal is valuable. You get to know them, then you become one, instead of them and us."

The volunteers hope other communities around the country will be inspired by their good deeds to set up their own outreach community service in other towns.

Made with funding from