Public helps homeless (and their dogs) have happy Christmas
An Ulster retailer has been stunned by the incredible response of the Northern Ireland public to his appeal for items to help the homeless this Christmas.
Big-hearted Gavin Dunlop (47), who owns Moda Shoes in Newtownards, issued the appeal after seeing the plight of homeless people in his native Glasgow.
He hit on the idea of filling shoeboxes with clothes and goodies and - helped by daughter Abby (16) - distributing them to local homeless people as a special kind of Christmas box.
"We put out an appeal through our Facebook page at the end of October and we've been overwhelmed by the generosity of customers and local people, the response has been tremendous," he said.
Tomorrow night, Gavin and Abby will head to Belfast to distribute 80 shoeboxes packed with everything from hats and gloves to food, chocolate and toiletries.
It's the first time Gavin has done anything like this and he's thrilled at the generosity of spirit with which customers and fellow retailers have responded to his appeal.
"Homelessness in Belfast is just getting worse and worse every year," Mr Dunlop told the Belfast Telegraph.
"It's just an idea that came up from going over to Glasgow, visiting my mum, and visiting Manchester where my son is at university, and seeing the scale of the street sleeping that happens there.
"It's heartbreaking. So I wanted to collect and do what I could for local homeless people who desperately need our help. Rough sleeping is something you didn't see much of in Belfast up until recently. I wanted to get involved and help, and thankfully others wanted to donate and help, too.
"And one lady told us that five or six years ago she herself fell on hard times, and somebody did something similar to what we're doing this year - and it helped her out of a big hole.
"The lady gave us an envelope - and there was £100 inside it!
"We bought fleece blankets with the money, and I put more money to her gift so that every single shoebox we give out will come with a fleece blanket. We have quite a number of warm jackets and jumpers to give out as well.
"People have been handing us filled shoeboxes, others have brought carrier bags full of stuff. They've really gone to town. It's been nothing short of incredible."
Gavin revealed that two of the bedrooms in his home are piled high with items that have been donated.
"We've got about 80 boxes fully packed and ready to distribute," he said.
And in a move which will touch the heart of animal lovers, Gavin and Abby have included doggie items in their Christmas shoeboxes, which they will be giving out to rough sleepers in Belfast.
"Often you see rough sleepers with their dogs by their side," said Gavin.
"People will always try to make sure that their dog is okay, before they think of themselves.
"We've had dog food and dog chews donated, as well as some leads and collars.
"It's been wonderful what people have given.
"People have been absolutely magnificent."
He added: "It's been truly overwhelming just how kind people have been."