Belfast charity's sadness as apple tree for homeless cut down
Belfast business partners who plant fruit trees to help feed the homeless have been left baffled after one was cut down deliberately.
Furniture shop owner Stephen McGivern (37) and Julie-Ann Burns (44) co-founded the not-for-profit Free Food For All initiative.
But they were left devastated and bewildered when they went to water a newly-planted apple tree in Carryduff on Thursday.
"I have no idea who would want to fell an apple tree that has been loved so much and maintained with great care," Mr McGivern said.
"I almost shed a tear when I came across the scene.
"It has been hacked down and uprooted sometime between Saturday and Thursday, just months after it was planted."
Ms Burns expressed disbelief over the "senseless" act of sabotage.
"Why anyone would want to do this, and go to so much effort, is beyond me," she said.
Mr McGivern is convinced that whoever cut the tree down knew what they were doing.
"I have been told by a landscaper that this was the work of a professional," he said.
"We are just totally appalled at this act."
It is a blow to the pair's ethical vision of utilising nature to bring communities together and help the hungry.
"We want people to nurture these plants and care for them," he said.
"Our hope is that people will start requesting trees and get on board so that everyone will be able to enjoy going out to pick the most delicious fruit for free, especially the homeless."
The project is rooted in what Mr McGivern said was a spiritual awakening that followed a drunken fight on board a boat on the River Shannon that eventually saw him pitch up in Co Cavan, where he stumbled across Jampa Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist meditation centre that he says changed his life.
"I used to be so busy and stressed out pursuing money, but I didn't really know why," he explained.
"Buddhism has transformed my life and given me a deep love of nature and now I tell anyone who will listen. This project is just my way of giving back because that's what Buddhism is all about."
The duo plan to develop an online app that will map the location of fresh produce, inform users when fruit is ripe, and allow them to share recipes.
They have recently reached out to the Islamic community in the hope of dedicating a tree to Muslims living in Northern Ireland.
"The response has been so positive, they think it's a brilliant idea," Mr McGivern said.
And he added: "We are like the Banksy of Belfast, but with trees - we just hope that this concept blossoms."