DJ Sonya Mac to serve up Christmas feast for bereaved dreading the big day
DJ Sonya Mac is to swap her microphone for chef's whites on Christmas Day to cook a festive fundraising feast for bereaved people who can't bear to be at home because of an empty chair at the table.
Those who are dreading Christmas Day because they have lost a loved one are invited to join Sonya at her new cafe, Healthy Eats, in Newtownards.
She has found the festive season difficult since losing her father James to cancer two years ago, and this has inspired her to try and create some magic for others who are also missing someone special.
Sonya will be laying on a traditional four-course festive dinner with all the trimmings for the nominal sum of £15, with every penny raised going to Cancer Research UK.
The Q Radio presenter said: "Christmas has been a struggle for me and my mum since we lost dad and that's why I decided to open up the cafe on Christmas Day for those who find themselves in the same situation.
"Our first Christmas was really difficult, and then last year I had a friend who buried her dad on Christmas Eve, and I ended up making dinner for her family.
"It made me realise that because I was cooking multiple Christmas dinners I could cook for even more people in the same situation and also try and raise money to help beat cancer sooner.
"There are so many people sitting at home at Christmas who find it hard because they have lost someone and I thought this would be a great way to bring them together as well as create a wee bit of community.
"We have some people booked in who are on their own and we have couples and families, which is great." Sonya is happy to cook dinner at a time to suit her guests and is prepared to give up her whole day if necessary.
Her idea seems to have caught people's imagination in Newtownards. Local businesses have donated turkeys, hams, fruit, vegetables, crackers, table covers, decorations and even a bouncy castle to entertain the kids.
Others have offered to help out on the day, and some people who have booked their dinner have offered to stay behind and help after they have eaten. Sonya has no idea how many people to expect, but ideally would love to cater for as many as 100, raising £1,500 for Cancer Research UK.
Fundraising for the charity has given Sonya something to focus on since her dad died from stomach cancer in June 2013, just six weeks after his diagnosis.
To date she has run 21 marathons including her own Macathon Challenge - running six marathons in six counties in six days in memory of her dad.
Last year she ran a total of 10 marathons, raising an incredible £25,000 for Cancer Research UK. Since she started running in 2010, the DJ has raised around £75,000 for numerous charities.
Next year she is set to take on her toughest challenge yet when she takes part in the 250km, five day Fire and Ice Ultra marathon - the world's toughest race - in Iceland, also in aid of Cancer Research UK.
It is because of her love of running that she opened her cafe in the town's Kiltonga Leisure Centre in June.
While still presenting her popular show on radio, she spends her spare time helping out in the premises. She said: "People were asking me all the time for advice on healthy eating because I run so many marathons, and that gave me the idea to open somewhere that serves only fresh, healthy dishes.
"I am really enjoying it and we have people coming in with their children who say they want to teach them healthy eating, which is brilliant."
Sonya's mum Rosemary will be helping her in the kitchen on Christmas Day, and both are looking forward to the challenge of their unusual festivities, spent with others in their community.
"Mum has already started to help by putting flyers out and trying to get sponsors on board, and she is really enjoying the challenge and, for both of us, it is a chance to do something positive."
She added: "There was always the three of us at Christmas and now that is no longer the case it has given us something else to focus on."
Sonya is appealing for support from local businesses which want to donate food or presents for the kids, and she would also love a Santa to come along. You can make a donation in support of the Christmas Day appeal in aid of Cancer Research at https://www.justgiving.com/EatsChristmas/?utm_id=25