He's Northern Ireland’s own Santa Claus. And while he doesn’t sport a white fluffy beard and a big red suit, Jack Rodgers still makes Christmas dreams come true every year for hundreds of children with a terminal or life-limiting illness.
The Larne businessman — full name John Calvert Gingles Rodgers, but known to all as Jack — is estimated to have raised over £1m through a variety of charity initiatives over the past 40 years.
But five years ago, the 63-year-old decided to take on the good work of St Nicholas when he set up the Northern Ireland’s Children To Lapland Trust (NICLT).
Every year since, Jack, his wife Lynne and the NICLT team take scores of boys and girls — plus their parents, guardians, carers and medical teams — on a day-trip adventure to visit Santa at his home in Lapland.
The aim is to create lasting memories for terminally ill and life-limited youngsters and their families and so far around 1,000 children have made the magical journey to see their dreams of meeting Santa realised.
Last year, a 180-seater plane made the journey from Belfast International Airport to Kittila Airport in Finland.
This year — on December 19 — a 220-seater Airbus will fly out, meaning even more children will get to enjoy the magical experience. The choir from the Belfast School of Performing Arts will sing for the children on the morning of their departure, alongside Disney characters dressed in festive costumes.
They will also be entertained on board the plane with a big Christmas party.
Jack, who has spent most of his working life in the entertainment and hospitality industry, was awarded an MBE by the Queen in this year’s Honours list for his services to children and charities in Northern Ireland over 40 years.
He said he started the Lapland Trust after identifying a need for it.
As a father himself, he spoke of the joy of seeing the children enjoying themselves.
“They endure the burden of illness throughout their entire lives, so it’s great to be able to help in this way.
“Most of the seats are for the children and the rest are for guardians, doctors and others.”
He said he was delighted to be honoured by the Queen.
“I was delighted and humbled to receive such a prestigious award,” he said.
“It has been a great pleasure for me over the years that I have been in a position to be able to help others, especially so many sick children.”
Jack told the Belfast Telegraph the future NICLT’s goal is to take a 480-seater jumbo jet to Lapland and create even more lasting memories for families.
“Other charities buy seats on commercial flights: we are the only charity flight going to Lapland from anywhere in the world,” he added.
“We want as many sick children as possible to get the chance to visit Santa.”
To support the charity or for more information visit www.niclt.org.
The Northern Ireland’s Children to Lapland Trust was founded by Jack Rodgers MBE five years ago. Its annual trip itinerary includes: reindeer rides, husky dog rides, sledging, mini ski-doo rides, snow mobile journeys, a hunt for Rudolf, a tour of the Ice Hotel, a Lapland ceremony and a private meeting with Santa Claus in his log cabin.