More than 100 people who would have otherwise spent Christmas alone sat down to a feast of ham, chicken, salads and pavlova at Hamilton Central Baptist Church on Christmas Day
Senior Pastor Derek Allan said the church expected to feed about 160 people at the community lunch.
"It's simply for anyone that is on their own over Christmas and doesn't want to be . . . believe me, the folk who come are determined to enjoy themselves."
About 15 dining tables were set up in the church gymnasium, and diners were treated to music and a prayer before lunch was served.
Hamilton great-grandmother Rose Jacob, a longtime competitor at the New Zealand Masters Games, had walked down from her pensioner flat to attend the lunch.
The 99-year-old was ready to tuck into a plate of ham and salad when the Waikato Times spoke with her.
Ms Jacob said the camaraderie was the main thing that brought her down.
"And the food of course," she said with a smile.
Marilyn Whiteside said she had been coming to the lunches put on by the church for about seven years. She said she was at the event because her two children were living in Australia.
"It gives me a Christmas I otherwise wouldn't have."
She said she kept returning to the annual lunch because it made her feel close to people, rather than alone on Christmas Day.
About 50 volunteers worked to prepare the food and venue on Christmas Eve and then dozens returned to help serve it at the church kitchen yesterday.
Volunteer Cherie Howsan, who was serving beetroot from a huge bowl on the table in front of her, said she had always wanted to help out at the lunch.
"My children aren't with me this year so I thought I'd come and share my love."
Another volunteer, Brian Taylor, who helped organise the lunch, said it was good to see so many people relaxed and happy.
"There is a lot of lonely, single people out there, and Christmas is about family and church is about family."
The Rev Allan, who is due to leave the church after nearly eight years service at the end of January, said it had been inundated with support in the leadup to the lunch.
"I've literally been turning away volunteers for two or three weeks now. We've just got too many."
He estimated around half the helpers would be associated with Central Baptist, and the rest from other churches or the community.
The church has also received food donations from individuals and Hamilton cafe Hazel Hayes, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Would you like to see the development of the Hamilton Gardens fast-tracked?Related story: Hardaker aims to reinvest in Hamilton