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Cooking ‘stalwarts’ Christmas cheer

Julie Wilson, 8, being served by volunteer Gareth Webber, 13, of Rathkeale College. PHOTOS/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

About 200 people sent home with ‘full bellies’

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Cooking Christmas lunch for extended family would be a daunting task for most people – well, imagine cooking for 200.

That’s exactly what Chris and Marianne Hackney do every year when Santa and his reindeer stop by.

Chicken kebabs, beef schnitzel, ham, a selection of veggies, salads, and desserts . . .  the list goes on.

The retired couple in their early 70s have been whipping up menus like this for about eight years now, and were at it again on Tuesday, catering for the Room at the Inn community Christmas lunch in Masterton.

Launched by Masterton Community Church 16 years ago, the event offers a free lunch for individuals and families going through hardships, or who would have otherwise spent Christmas alone.

Chris and Marianne Hackney have been cooking Christmas lunch at the ‘Room at the Inn’ event for several years.

Marianne and Chris used to own the Zodiac restaurant in Martinborough, so they are no strangers to a hard day’s work in the kitchen.

Marianne said after her parents died and their son moved overseas, she and her husband began cooking for the annual community event, which beat “mulling around at home” on Christmas Day.

Room at the Inn organisers, Pastors Pete and Deb Hampson said the Hackneys were humble about their efforts.

“They have been real stalwarts,” Pete said.

“We’re very thankful to have them,” Deb said.

The Hampsons have been involved with the festive lunch since its inception in 2002.

“Fred and Maureen Barnes came up with the idea,” Pete said.

“They moved away and we’ve carried it on ever since.”

Up to 50 volunteers work in shifts, sharing the tasks of setting up the War Memorial Stadium on Christmas Eve, serving food, and then cleaning up.

“There’s a great atmosphere and a great team of people helping,” Pete said.

“Sometimes there’s nothing for the volunteers to do so we encourage them to go and be a friend – talk to people, make them feel at home and feel valued.”

Wairarapa disability advocate Peter Knighton braved the rain on Tuesday, standing in a poncho under an umbrella as he greeted and pointed people to “the Inn”.

“This is my seventh year helping out,” he said.

“There’s about 200 booked in today and I guarantee you there will be a few walk-ins off the street because there always is – but you never turn people away.”

He said it was about making sure everyone went home with “full bellies” and knowing “someone cares”.

Santa drops by after the meal and sends every child home with a gift, and everyone gets leftovers packed in takeaway containers.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson shared lunch with her constituents and gave the Hackneys a thumbs-up.

“They have been cooking for longer than I can remember, and they do an absolutely awesome job.”

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