Thousands of people around the country don't have the luxury of tucking into ham, turkey and pavlova for Christmas Day. Or, they don't have family they can spend the day with. But thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who are spending the holiday running charity lunches today, they enjoyed a festive lunch in good company. The Herald caught up with some of those families and the volunteers dedicating their Christmas day to bringing a smile to their faces.

Auckland

It's the biggest Christmas lunch in the country.

The Auckland City Mission gave out 2000 tickets for its annual lunch at the Viaduct Events Centre.

Volunteers have been up since the wee hours of this morning preparing the massive feast before the doors opened at 11.30am.

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Sitting at a particularly chaotic table is the Parker family.

Ivan Parker, a welder from Mangere, has come down to the lunch with his wife and eight children. Photo / Charlotte Carter
Ivan Parker, a welder from Mangere, has come down to the lunch with his wife and eight children. Photo / Charlotte Carter

Ivan Parker, a welder from Mangere, came with his wife and eight children.

"I'm the only one working so the school (Mangere Central) put us onto the lunch," parker said.

"The kids were really happy to come down. We usually go to a park or something on Christmas Day."

Freemans Bay resident Zoe Richardson-Buchanan came down to the lunch by herself.

"I don't really have anybody to spend Christmas with so I'm just glad to be distracted," she said.

"I was going to have a picnic at the beach but it was just too lonely, it's nice to be down here and feel like I'm a part of something," Richardson-Buchanan said.

"I'm really looking forward to sitting down at the table and talking to the people there and making some new friends, and the music - I'm music hungry."

Many people have come down to the Christmas lunch simply to be around other people.

Literary Aotearoa receptionist Belinda Campbell and her daughter Jaydha have come down together.

Campbell said her mum passed away recently, and it doesn't really feel like Christmas without her.

"My work mate told me to come down here and it's great, if you can't be with family then why not celebrate with everyone else?"

City Missioner Chris Farrelly said that most people who come down to the lunch today already have tickets.

Around 2000 people are expected to sit down and enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch. Photo / Michael Craig
Around 2000 people are expected to sit down and enjoy a traditional Christmas lunch. Photo / Michael Craig

"They're people we and other agencies have been working with, and we're also catering for another few hundred who will just arrive without tickets," Farrelly said.

"The most special thing about the event is the people who give. We are so many volunteers and people we really want to stretch their hands and help out those in need."

The guests are in for a treat thanks to those donations and volunteers. Small bottles of soft drink, candy canes, Christmas crackers and sweets are arranged on the 140 tables.

Preparations began as far back as 8am on Friday.

On Sunday, the volunteers came in waves to do the food preparation and the clean-up after that.

There were separate groups to make desserts and to prepare the meat and vegetables.
Preparation of all food was completed by noon on Sunday.

The cooking began about 6am roday and volunteers started decorating the tables at 7am.

They'll serve up 300kg of ham, 2,000 chicken drumsticks, and 300kg of potatoes, with jelly and ice cream for dessert.

Every guest will also receive a gift before going home.

City Mission Christmas lunch volunteer Barney Wikitera told the Herald this morning it was his 6th year helping out at the lunch as a server.

"I used to come when I was younger when I lived in Avondale with my mum and my brothers, we didn't have much. I'm in a better place now so I want to give back."

Entertainment will be ongoing throughout the day on the stage in the Viaduct Centre.

Kapa Haka group Tokatu drove all the way from Rototua this morning to perform at the lunch.

Tokatu leader Ngapera Haitana said her daughter volunteered at the lunch last year and inspired them to make the trip.

"She said to us, we don't really do anything meaningful for Christmas so let's do something that makes a difference and share what we can do. So here we are, and it's a real privilege to be here," Haitana said.

Farrelly said everyday for the past three weeks people had been lining up at the Mission for eight or nine hours from midnight for food parcels and other assistance.

"We have had around 400 families through the mission in the lead up to Christmas, it's been a hugely busy time," Farrelly said.

Guests line up for the City Mission Christmas lunch at the Viaduct Events Centre. Photo / Michael Craig
Guests line up for the City Mission Christmas lunch at the Viaduct Events Centre. Photo / Michael Craig

"We can't face a Christmas without pavlovas," they said.

Wellington

About 150 people were expected for the Room at the Inn charity Christmas Day lunch at the Quinns Post Tavern in Upper Hutt.

Simone Hohepa has been going to the Christmas lunch for 17 years.

This year she's brought along a cousin and made a new friend at her table.

From left, Pumau Tana, 8, Rahera Tana, 9, Phenix Salmon, 7, Simone Hohepa, at a Christmas charity lunch in upper Hutt. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
From left, Pumau Tana, 8, Rahera Tana, 9, Phenix Salmon, 7, Simone Hohepa, at a Christmas charity lunch in upper Hutt. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

"I come here every year because I've only got the one son . . . I thought I would do it every year, I've been to all of them."

Over the years Hohepa has met many new faces at the lunches, where people come for companionship and a hot meal.

That's why Merv Trangmar and his friend Thelma Chester-Freeman come along.

Chester-Freeman lives in a rest home - her husband died some years back - so she and Trangmar come to the charity lunch so they can enjoy the festive spirit with others.

"We're both alone at this time of year," Trangmar said.

"We've been here previous years and we've always been well looked after."

He loved the "spirit of the occasion" and the way people interacted with each other.

"We always look forward to it, waiting for the time of year to arrive."

Pat and Olga Crowley were at the Christmas lunch for the first time and were enjoying being with "a good crowd of people".

The couple are usually by themselves so liked having the opportunity to meet new friends at the lunch.

"It's very beautiful, that's all I can say, can't moan about that," Pat said.

Room at the Inn is run by the Rimutaka Lions Club. President Paul Lambert said the Lions Club internationally was the largest volunteer organisation in the world.

They have been running the lunch in Upper Hutt for 18 years. Before that it was run by Red Cross.

Friends Thelma Chester-Freeman and Merv Trangmar come to the charity lunch together for the companionship. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Friends Thelma Chester-Freeman and Merv Trangmar come to the charity lunch together for the companionship. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

Coordinator Gay Geursen said it was "so rewarding" to provide the lunch.

Quinn's Post owner Murray McMahon provided the venue, saying he got involved about five years ago when the club was struggling to find somewhere to hold the event.

Room at the Inn is about providing "a Christmas meal for anybody who may be lonely or may not be able to afford to go to a normal restaurant or pay $100 a head or whatever they charge these days".

"A lot of people walk in, sit down, have a meal, and have companionship."

The event was made possible with the help of volunteers, fundraising, and sponsors.

Whangarei

More than 100 people enjoyed a free Christmas Day lunch put on by the Whangarei Salvation Army today.

Lieutenant Peter Koia, of the Whangarei Salvation Army, said he was proud and delighted that so many people turned up for the feast.

''We've got more than 100 people from our wider community here for the lunch and I think we have more than 30 volunteers from the Salvation Army community today helping out as well,'' Mr Koia said.

''The volunteers have put aside some of their own time on Christmas Day to come and help others in the community to ensure they have an enjoyable and memorable Christmas day. It's a wonderful gesture.

Christchurch

Meanwhile, in Christchurch, about 700 people were expected for lunch in a marquee at Christchurch East School.

The City Mission there put out a late call for more donations of pavlovas.