Friday, 21 June 2019


Free community lunch a very special Christmas feast

On Christmas Day, a free community lunch were enjoyed 130 guests in the Whitianga Town Hall.

The lunch was organised by Whitianga residents Maureen Kerr, John and Madeline Saunders, Dorothy Preece, Tania Iti and Yvette Simpson. Armed with a whiteboard and a marker pen, these six determined individuals got together in June last year to commence planning. “It’s amazing, on Boxing Day I went back to look at what we set out to do back in June and we’ve achieved every single thing,” says Maureen.

The goal was for a lunch that would cater for everyone, including individuals and families in need, people without family and friends to spend Christmas with and tourists in Mercury Bay who longed for the company of others.

The Mercury Bay Community Trust (the trust responsible for the Mercury Bay Day Camp and the free Monday meals at St Andrew’s Church in Whitianga) “adopted” the initiative. Monthly meetings commenced and duties were handed out. A local business donated $1,500 as soon as it became known that the lunch was being organised.

A call was made for further donations and volunteers. The response was overwhelming. “We’ve had jobs for 50 volunteers,” says Maureen. “Many more wanted to help, but we just couldn’t accommodate them. Several families volunteered, parents and children, it was heart-warming to see.

“Donations have also kept on coming in. Even two days before Christmas Day someone gave us $500.”

No cutlery or crockery needed to be hired. Virtually everything was donated by the op shops in Whitianga and Tairua. “About a week before the lunch we were 10 plates short,” says Maureen. “I mentioned that to one of my neighbours who said that’s not a problem. They opened their cupboard and invited us to take whatever we needed.”

Much of the food was donated. “We’ve received great support form the community garden in Whitianga and potatoes were donated to us all the way from Pukekohe,” says Maureen.

Preparation of the food began on Christmas Eve in the St Andrews Community Church kitchen. In charge were Tania Iti (who’s looking after the free Monday meals at St Andrew’s) and well-known local chef Richard Shelford-Woodcock (better known as Chocky Brown).

The menu was a feast - ham, roasted vegetables, gravy, cauliflower and broccoli with cheese sauce and salads. Dessert included Christmas pudding, trifle and small Christmas tarts.

On Christmas Day, Snapper Jacks Takeaways opened their kitchen where the last food preparations took place.

The town hall doors opened at 11:30am on Christmas Day. On the beautifully decorated tables were 200 Christmas crackers, all hand made by a local family. Local performer Anita Prime entertained the guests before lunch was served at midday and face painting was available to everyone. The atmosphere was festive and joyful.

Among the guests was Gwen Hamilton, at 101 years old Whitianga’s oldest resident. Tourists from the US, Germany, France and the UK have also enjoyed the lunch. One of the tourists entertained the guests with a touching French song between the main course and dessert. Some of the US tourists took selfies with locals which they sent to their families back home.

Santa and Mrs Claus arrived after lunch and handed packets of lollies out to all the children.

There were lots of leftovers. Some was frozen to use for the Monday meals at St Andrew’s and the rest was given to people to take home to share with their neighbours.

“The lunch was a very special event,” says Maureen. “It was hard work and at times very stressful, but absolutely worth it. We can’t wait to do it all over again.”

Pictured: Maureen Kerr (left), one of the organisers of the free Whitianga Christmas lunch, and Gwen Hamilton, Whitianga’s oldest resident, on Christmas Day in the Whitianga Town Hall.



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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.