Devoted duo's double decade of dinners

CHRISTMAS CHEER: Peter and Sandra Maxfield are spending their 24th Christmas volunteering at The Mayor's Christmas Dinner.
CHRISTMAS CHEER: Peter and Sandra Maxfield are spending their 24th Christmas volunteering at The Mayor's Christmas Dinner.

There is no such thing as a low-key Christmas dinner for Sandra and Peter Maxfield.

The Stoke couple buy presents and help cook for a crowd of up to 180 people and they would not have it any other way.

The Maxfields have volunteered at the Mayors' Christmas dinner for the past 24 years. Sandra has co-ordinated the event for the past 15 years.

The Mayors' Christmas dinner is a community dinner aimed at senior citizens who would otherwise be by themselves. On average 160 to 180 people attend.

This year the dinner will be held in the dining hall at Nelson College, after Nelson City Council said on Friday that the The Trafalgar Centre was closed indefinitely due to concerns about its earthquake safety.

"We found out on Friday the 13th," Sandra says.

The couple say it will take some re-arrangement but the shift should not compromise the lunch and its entertainment.

Each year the Nelson Youth Theatre sings Christmas carols, a choral treat which is always well received.

"It's quite moving. Silent Night always gets me," Sandra says.

The Maxfields started helping out through a woman she worked with and enjoyed it so much they have volunteered every year.

"I worked with a lady who helped run a dinner for Age Concern. She had kids about the same age as ours, we were at a loose end - with only my Mum and Dad and us. She said come and join us. My parents had a great day meeting up with friends they hadn't seen and it just snowballed."

Their two children Sean and Claire have grown up with it.

"They had great fun doing it, we all have. It's become our Christmas."

Sandra starts organising the dinner in late September, when she contacts her "amazing group of volunteers" to see who can help out. She says the volunteers have a lot of fun together.

"A lot we don't see from one Christmas to the next, but they are like family when we do meet them again."

Some of the food is donated to the dinner, including frozen vegetables and goods provided by Talleys.

However the Maxfields do the other shopping for the dinner themselves - including buying the "libations and pavlovas".

Their laden shopping trolleys draw comments at the check-out.

Santa also makes an appearance at the dinner with each person going away with a gift. The Maxfields also do the Christmas shopping themselves and volunteers wrap the gifts.

Work preparing the dinner starts on Christmas Eve and the Maxfields are back at the venue at 9am. An hour or so later the volunteers arrive. Dinner starts at noon and guests have usually left, fed and happy, by 2.30pm.

"When the drivers come back we usually sit down and have a meal together . . . normally we are out of there by six," Sandra says.

Peter has the added job of organising transport for people who cannot get to the dinner by themselves.

Sandra says Peter is retired and she works, but is also on the pension. So they will sometimes say to each other during the meal that they probably should be paying to attend and taking it easy with the guests.

But they are not quite ready to give it up yet.

"It's amazing. A lot of my volunteers are not young and they are probably entitled to be going to it, but they would rather be giving. It's just a great lovely day, a lovely atmosphere. It's hard work for us and volunteers, but because they are all good people we have a lot of fun."

  • The last day to buy tickets for the dinner officially is Friday, December 20. Tickets are $15 and can be bought at the council offices and the Stoke Library.