What it takes to feed 400 people on Christmas Day

10 December 2018
Two Meals Program volunteers handing out a plate to a client

Hosting Christmas Day lunch for family and friends is a busy affair at the best of times: setting the table, organising visitors, cooking, cleaning, decorating.

Now imagine throwing a Christmas lunch for 400 guests. Here at the Mission, we do it every year at our Dining Hall in St Kilda.

Peter Whitelaw has been a Dining Hall Team Leader for over four years and will oversee lunch service on Christmas Day.

For Peter, the day is really about providing an enjoyable and welcoming space for people – even if just for a couple of hours.

“On Christmas Day, guests eat roast ham with cranberry jelly and drink coffee and fruit punch,” Peter says.

“The room is packed with visitors and volunteers and filled with the sound of happy voices and plates clattering.

“Santa visits with his helper to hand out gifts to visitors sitting around the decorated tables.”

More than just a festive feast

Our Christmas lunch is more than just a festive feast; it’s also about providing a welcoming space for people who often have nowhere to go and no one to spend time with.

Many of our clients experiencing homelessness and disadvantage lack a safe and supportive home environment, and Christmas can often be a sad and isolating period.

“Other organisations might not serve meals on Christmas Day so we see a lot of new faces as well as the regulars,” Peter says.

“Visitors might come individually or in small groups. Families come with young children and occasionally teenagers.

“We want to give our guests the opportunity to feel like they belong somewhere.”

All hands on deck

To put on a Christmas lunch for so many guests calls for all hands on deck. The Mission will have more than twice the usual number of volunteers in the Dining Hall on the day and twice the number of guests.

Peter will help to oversee a team of 40 volunteers and five staff to serve meals to 400 guests, following an air-tight run sheet.

“Designated greeters are at the doors to welcome all who arrive and liaise with the front of house volunteers who seat guests wherever there’s free space,” Peter says.

“Some volunteers work to provide full table service while others are out in the kitchen or behind the bain marie.”

After the last guest has left, the tables are packed away and the dishes washed, Peter and our other volunteers will go off to Christmas festivities with their own families.

“Working in the Dining Hall is a rewarding experience. Whether it’s washing the dishes in the back or anything else, I feel privileged to be able to go through and help,” Peter says.

Make a donation and support our #Mission365

Our Meals Program relies on the support of volunteers and the community to continue to provide hot and nutritious meals not only on Christmas Day but year-round. Every day of the year, we serve free breakfast and lunch to people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage.

Sacred Heart Mission makes a difference in the lives of people in many different ways, every day of the year. But we can’t do it without your support. If you would like to support our Meals Program, our Mission 365 Appeal allows you to help make everyday feel like Christmas to someone in need.

By donating to our #Mission365 appeal and by making a tax-deductible donation today, you can provide support for those who need it 365 days a year. To donate call 1800 443 278 or visit:

Make a tax-deductible donation today