It may be an American holiday but in New Zealand Thanksgiving has become a day to give back, with one group in particular, the "new poor", needing help.
The Downtown Community Ministry, which is funded by donations from Wellington churches and provides a wide range of programmes and support to those in need, hosted the annual Thanksgiving lunch for the sixth year yesterday (it's actually Thanksgiving today).
Around 250 people were served a traditional American meal complete with roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pecan pie for dessert.
The Wellington branch of the New Zealand Chefs Association and its members cooked the donated food. For Wellington president Glenn Curphey it was about supporting the local community.
"It makes us feel good as well," said Curphey.
"We're in kitchens day-in-day-out, so we never go hungry, but there are a number of people in and around Wellington who are hungry everyday, so it means a lot - to at least once a year - be able to give them a good sit-down meal."
Among those enjoying their thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings was Jimmy, a born-again Christian with a passion for harness-racing.
"What brought me here today was the fellowship I would get and the input I would get from the people here," he said.
Downtown Community director Stephanie McIntyre described the people at the event as some of the poorest and most marginalised in the city. She warned of a growing trend.
"Statistically, single people living alone are New Zealand's 'new poor'," said McIntyre.
"We need to remember rent, transport, food costs and utilities have all increased, so people who are living in a flat on their own, who's sole income is from a benefit or casual low-paid work are really hurting and the numbers of those people are growing astronomically."
The US Embassy sponsored the event and volunteers from the embassy served the meal.
US ambassador David Huebner said many Americans started their Thanksgiving holiday by volunteering to serve meals at shelters, missions, and churches, and the event was in line with the American approach.
"It's a natural part of thanksgiving," said Huebner.
"We do this naturally back in the United States so it would not be a good thanksgiving if we weren't doing something for the homeless and needy."
While Thanksgiving isn't a tradition many in New Zealand know much about, it was embraced by those who attended the event.
"People here have taken to it and understand this is a time to share the bounty and provision," said McIntyre.
"Even people who are very poor - I take my hat of to them - they can be thankful for what they've got."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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