One last lunch for missioner Dame Diane

Dame Diane
Dame Diane

As 2000 people gathered to share a meal at the Auckland City Mission's annual lunch, departing missioner Dame Diane Robertson said it was hard to walk away, but the tradition would live on without her.

About 1000 volunteers helped decorate the Viaduct Events Centre and wrapped presents as the mission welcomed the 2000-odd diners to its yearly lunch for the city's most needy.

They quickly transformed the vast space with Christmas decorations, trees, presents and tables in just a day before queues began forming at 11am today.

Fearing the centre's 2000-seat capacity would not be enough, they also prepared 600 takeaway packages.

Talking to NZ Newswire while preparations were under way, the woman running the show one last time, Dame Diane, said over the decades, the need for the lunch had grown hugely.

"It used to just be an event for the homeless people we used to work with, and it's now become a much bigger event," she said.

"We see more of a mixture of people coming to this now. It's not about being homeless or being poor. It's about being lonely and being isolated at what is traditionally a day we share with other people."

It's her 22nd and last Christmas lunch with the mission. She retires as head of the mission at the end of the year.

She said it was sadly obvious the need for services for the poor, such as the mission, was increasing.

"A real sign of success of my position would have been these queues decreasing, and for people not needing to be here on Christmas Day."

Despite that there had been a lot of good work to be proud of, including setting up the first hospice for people with HIV and AIDS, raising the profile of poverty and homelessness, while providing a wide range of everyday services, she said.

As someone used to being in control, she admits she's struggling a bit to hand the reins over.

"I've been slowly handing things over, but I do keep saying to people, `Make sure you do this next year or this or this'," she said.

"This is what the mission is at Christmas. It has been for a hundred years ... That tradition will go beyond me."