Belfast's Black Santa raises £10,000 for war zone refugees even before sit-out
As he wraps himself up for the 40th St Anne's Cathedral sit-out for charities, Belfast's Black Santa has announced two £5,000 grants have already been made to help alleviate the humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen.
Black Santa - aka Dean of the cathedral John Mann - said the money came from donations made before the start of this year's event.
The grants will be directed through Christian Aid and its partners in Syria and Yemen.
The Dean said a representative of Christian Aid had assured him that the resources will reach those most in need, despite the receiving countries being in such turmoil.
Through partners working on the ground, the money will help the operation of organisations which are already working with the displaced and those in refugee camps.
The Dean said that as the Aleppo situation is moving so rapidly and dangerously, he was assured the people being helped are those directly fleeing the conflict zone. As the evacuation gets under way, there are people close to the scene who can use the resources that donations provide to help support those who have escaped with little more than their lives.
Commenting on the grants, Rev Mann said: "The focus of much of the Black Santa collection is local money for local charities, but a smaller but significant place has always been given for overseas aid.
"The need to support the vulnerable elsewhere, at the same time as encouraging the work of our community-based charities in Northern Ireland, is not something that we would ever want to lose sight of, and the generosity of the people of Belfast and beyond will continue to be deeply valued by the many as well as the few.
The 2016 Black Santa sit-out begins on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral in Donegall Street at 10am today.
As always, he will be supported by the Bishops of Connor and Down & Dromore, and members of the cathedral chapter.
They will join the Dean on the steps of the cathedral from 8am until 6pm every day, except Sunday, from the launch until Christmas Eve. The sit-out was established by Dean Sammy Crooks who, after his installation in 1970, set about raising major funding to complete the cathedral, a project that had been ongoing since 1899.
In 1975, after flooding in Bangladesh resulted in many thousands of deaths, Dean Crooks decided to stand on Donegall Street outside the building to collect money for the disaster appeal.
This impromptu collection was so successful that he was persuaded to repeat it the following Christmas, using the slogan: 'Give and let live. Save the children, feed the hungry, heal the sick. Please don't pass them by.'
He realised that those in Northern Ireland had given generously to his building fund over the years, and it was now time for the cathedral to be seen to support local charities.
And so began the Dean's sit-out, which has become a major part of the Christmas tradition here.
Dean Crooks was dubbed Black Santa by the media and community because of his black Anglican cloak. The tradition he started was maintained by his successor Dean Jack Shearer, and later by Dean Houston McKelvey, before it passed to the current Dean.
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