Volunteers bring good cheer to Christmas

Would-be volunteers are being turned away from helping at Hamilton's community Christmas dinner after an influx of well wishers wanted to give more than just presents this year.

On Christmas Day around 50 volunteers will be lending a hand at Hamilton Central Baptist Church's community meal.

Offers of help started flowing in around mid-November until the spots were filled.

Senior Pastor Derek Allan said the response was wonderful. "It's sad to turn away willing volunteers but we're pretty much okay now."

This isn't the first year there has been a volunteer surplus though.

"They [volunteers] think it's well worth doing. Simple as that," Reverend Allan said.

"When [the guests] come, they really come to enjoy themselves . . . and I think the volunteers understand that and really want to make a memorable Christmas for these folk. What we can offer on Christmas Day is a great meal - [and] friendship," he said.

He estimated around half the helpers would be associated with Central Baptist and the rest from other churches, or the community.

Some families volunteer together to give their kids a different taste of Christmas.

And then there were those who help in other ways too - the donation of pavlovas, or Hazel Hayes cafe collecting money to buy hams for the lunch.

Professor Darrin Hodgetts of the University of Waikato psychology department agreed people saw Christmas as the season of giving. "I think the obligation toward each other comes out - and it feels good doing something for someone else. It's good for [the volunteers'] soul. It makes Christmas feel real," he said.

Volunteering Waikato general manager Heather Moore also found the festive season brought out a volunteering spirit, with many requests for a Christmas-related role.

The organisation sources people for many different roles, including gift-wrappers who do shifts at Centre Place and the Base.

This year the youngest wrapper is 13, but others are students, full-time workers and people who have retired. Politicians often step in for a shifts as Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker and her husband did this year.

When volunteers give up their time, they get something in return, Ms Moore said. "A sense of doing something worthwhile."

Ms Moore has seen volunteer numbers almost triple over the past five years and she puts that down to the organisation's higher profile. And almost a third of people who come to them are students.

Young people had a social conscience and were aware of the difference they could make through volunteering, she said.

"Sometimes we hear people say that young people don't volunteer. That's certainly not our experience."

Waikato Times