25 Dec 2022

'It's always about people' - Mission serves up Christmas spirit

3:29 pm on 25 December 2022
Kitchen volunteers at the Auckland City Mission this morning.

Kitchen volunteers at the Auckland City Mission this morning. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

More than 500 people gathered in Auckland's City Mission this morning to share a free Christmas lunch together.

The lunch was served at the new HomeGround building on Hobson Street, and it was a mix of food, gifts, laugher and inclusion.

On the menu, fresh bread, potato salad, glazed hot ham and coleslaw, with strawberry pudding, jelly, chocolate brownies and ice cream for dessert.

Isaac Connell has lived at HomeGround for the past four months after many years sleeping rough.

Isaac Connell

Isaac Connell said having a safe place to spend Christmas makes all the difference. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

He said having a safe space to spend Christmas makes a huge difference in his life.

"A lot of people can't talk about struggles in their households or why they can't be with their families at Christmas time, and then there is this gathering here.

"We get together, you can smile and enjoy it, call everyone family. It inspires me."

Connell said many HomeGround residents volunteered to help with the lunch preparations.

"Everyone helped a little. Next year I'm looking to involve myself in everything that goes on around here [at HomeGround], so I will be looking for a job to give back to the community the help they offered me."

Deb Tugaga

Deb Tugaga said volunteers spent hours on Christmas Eve preparing food. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

Deb Tugaga was responsible for the food and said most volunteers spent over nine hours yesterday preparing the Christmas meal for those in need.

"They rely on us, so it's really important they get fed first thing in the morning. I know it's a bit early for a Christmas meal - but that's how they like it.

"And we do it, so they know that we care about how they are and what's happening in their lives."

Christmas decorations marked the Auckland City Mission today.

Christmas decorations marked the Auckland City Mission today. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

Marlise Shadbolt has been volunteering at City Mission Christmas Lunch for the past four years.

She said the event was an opportunity for those struggling to feel a sense of belonging and not wanting to spend Christmas alone.

"It's always about people and making it special for everybody.

"We know Christmas sometimes can be a lonely time, but this was about community - we need to do the very best we can to make the world a better place."

Missioner Helen Robinson said after two years of not being able to provide lunch because of the pandemic, this year City Mission went ahead with it, but with safety measures in place.

"This year was quite a delight that Covid didn't stop us, although we are super conscious of it.

"And that was part of the reason we decided on a rolling lunch, just as a way of protecting people and not having so many people together at once."

Auckland City Missioner Helen Robinson

Auckland City Missioner Helen Robinson said it was fantastic to be able to return to providing Christmas lunch this year. Photo: RNZ / Rayssa Almeida

She said this is the first time the Christmas lunch could be done at HomeGround, which opened earlier this year.

"It's very special for us to do it in our own space," Robinson said.

"All other lunches we just didn't have the facility, we didn't have the commercial kitchen or the space, so being able to host it here at HomeGround is just amazing."

Robinson said many of those attending the lunch were sleeping rough or going through hardship.

"There is something special about being able to say - 'whatever is going on, you are a human being with dignity, and you belong.

"You belong to New Zealand, you belong to Auckland, and you certainly belong to the City Mission."

Robinson said the number of volunteers this year was above expectations.

"We had hundreds and hundreds of people volunteering for Christmas day, we just literally don't have the spaces available for everyone.

"What we do requires many hands, so we are really grateful for the community help."

Robinson said the best thing about offering an alternative space for vulnerable people to spend Christmas is to see the happiness and gratitude.

"What happened today here at HomeGround was special.

"We have 67 people sleeping in our apartments here who last year did not have a home."

"There's just so much to celebrate and acknowledge and we can only do that because of the generosity of people," Robinson said.

"So, thank you Auckland, and Merry Christmas."

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