The hungry, the homeless, the elderly and those who just wanted some company descended on the Cloud on Auckland's waterfront today for some delicious festive food at the Auckland City Mission's Christmas lunch.

The 1600-plus guests were greeted with a warm "Merry Christmas" from one of the hundreds of volunteers, before finding seats at tables laden with Christmas crackers, juice, tubs of chocolate, takeaway vouchers and cookies.

Christmas carols and UB40 hits entertained the masses until the food arrived - a spread of ham, chicken and roast potatoes with jelly and icecream for dessert.

In the back rooms, Santa's helpers wrapped hundreds of presents while down the road at Spark Arena volunteers had been cooking lunch since 6am - prepping some 300kg of ham, 1600 chicken drumsticks and 300kg of potatoes.

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The venue was full to capacity and volunteers were trying to squeeze in those who turned up without tickets.

As the band struck up a pre-lunch version of "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" the crowd began singing and some began waving their arms in the air.

Muriel Kett lost her husband this year; she's always wanted to come to the Mission's lunch and thought now was the perfect time. Photo / Michael Craig
Muriel Kett lost her husband this year; she's always wanted to come to the Mission's lunch and thought now was the perfect time. Photo / Michael Craig

Muriel Kett was one of those who came for the company and the atmosphere - it's her first Christmas without husband Fredrick after he died in July, aged 89.

She had expected to spend Christmas alone - but realised it was a great chance to come and visit the Auckland City Mission lunch.

"I thought it would be nice to come down here, I'd always wanted to be here so I thought, this is the time."

Her son would be joining her if he could find her in the crowd.

Kett was enjoying having people around, and even thinking about getting in a spot of dancing.

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Wahine Tupou (third from left) with extended family from Tonga. Photo / Michael Craig
Wahine Tupou (third from left) with extended family from Tonga. Photo / Michael Craig

The Tupou family and their relatives from Tonga were also enjoying the festivities. Wahine Tupou has visited for almost 10 years - she brought her extended family from Tonga, a whole table full of kids, happily chowing down on the roast potatoes, ham and chicken drumsticks.

She came back every year for "the fun, the atmosphere and the food" - and catching sight of old friends including some of the volunteers.

"Christmas for me is about family, about love, joy, being happy, being safe."

Guest Jason Burton-Miller said coming to the lunch had been a "blessing".

"It makes me feel proud to be a New Zealander - we're always looking out for each other."

Jason Burton-Miller says the Auckland City Mission lunch makes him
Jason Burton-Miller says the Auckland City Mission lunch makes him "proud to be a New Zealander". Photo / Michael Craig

Volunteers have been prepping food for days and have been up since 6am today at Spark Arena where they've been cooking the food. Others have been acting as Santa's helpers, wrapping thousands of presents and sorting them into age appropriate groups. Some 600 volunteers were involved on Christmas Day alone with thousands more in the lead-up to December 25.

Every guest received a gift, every one of them donated by generous Kiwis. Over the past two weeks the mission has given 40,000 children's gifts and 8000 food parcels to families in need.

Emelia Wilkinson, 18, is one of Santa's helpers. She's here with her mum, her sister and her grandparents - all of them for the first time.

"Usually we have Christmas up in my grandparents house in Paihia with the whole family but this year it's just us and my grandparents, so we thought it'd be something fun to do on Christmas Day. It's a bit different, a bit of fun to go altogether.

"It's a lot bigger than I expected, a lot of people, but it's cool - it's a good time."

Huia Hema is also volunteering for the first time. She's spent the morning wrapping presents and getting ready to hand them out, and getting "in the zone" with some Christmas music.

Hema has had "a year of epiphanies - you realise the more you do for others the better you feel yourself".

"The kids are a little bit older and I wanted Christmas to mean something again. So when the kids are young it's just magic and the mystery and joy of it, and I just wanted a little bit of that again."

It's Huia Hema's first Christmas volunteering for the Auckland City Mission's Christmas lunch. She spent the morning wrapping gifts. Photo / Michael Craig
It's Huia Hema's first Christmas volunteering for the Auckland City Mission's Christmas lunch. She spent the morning wrapping gifts. Photo / Michael Craig

"This year has been an extraordinary outpouring of generosity," says the Mission's chief executive Chris Farrelly. "We see this every year but I've just noticed this year the numbers of volunteers, the sheer kindness that seems to be upwelling is phenomenal."

"What we've seen today is just ... an immense heart of New Zealand. We are an incredibly generous country and this shows it."

Those at the Auckland City Mission had picked up a feeling over the past year that "our country is becoming more aware and less judgmental", Farrelly said.

"As the stories are being told, people understand that poverty is often not the fault of the individual but is the result of a whole lot of circumstances."

Auckland City Mission chief executive Chris Farrelly talks about the Christmas lunch. Photo / Michael Craig
Auckland City Mission chief executive Chris Farrelly talks about the Christmas lunch. Photo / Michael Craig

There were also more chances than ever for people to give, he said.

For Farrelly, the lunch was one day when everyone felt included.

"There's a large group of people here who feel as human and as part of this country as I do. There's something about being excluded that has huge ramifications for us, particularly for a child, so inclusion is really important. These people today just feel part of us, not less than."

He was planning to ask those gathered to continue to give themselves. "You received something here but continue to give in your own way as well."

It's not too late to donate - the mission expects to give out 25,000 food parcels in the next year. You can give at on the charity's website.