The Christmas spirit is alive in Upper Hutt where people who are normally alone gather with strangers for an annual charity lunch.

Those living nearby who don't have anyone to spend Christmas with or can't afford to travel for the holidays are some of those filling the seats at Quinn's Post tavern today for the Room at the Inn lunch.

"People out there that are lonely with no one . . . I've got my son but that's not very exciting, he's seven, so yeah, nah," said Simone Hohepa, who has been coming to the Christmas lunches for 17 years.

From left Pumau Tana, 8, Rahera Tana, 9, Phenix Salmon, 7, Simone Hohepa attend the Christmas lunch for a chance to make new friends. Photo/Melissa Nightingale
From left Pumau Tana, 8, Rahera Tana, 9, Phenix Salmon, 7, Simone Hohepa attend the Christmas lunch for a chance to make new friends. Photo/Melissa Nightingale

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

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"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."

Friends Thelma Chester-Freeman and Merv Trangmar would normally be alone at Christmas, so come to the lunch to be around other people. Photo/Melissa Nightingale
Friends Thelma Chester-Freeman and Merv Trangmar would normally be alone at Christmas, so come to the lunch to be around other people. Photo/Melissa Nightingale

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

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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.

Co-ordinator 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.