Belfast's Black Santa goes contactless
Sit-out for charity now entering its 43rd year
The annual Black Santa sit-out began on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast yesterday with a focus on supporting mental health, the homeless and refugees.
With modern Christmas shoppers now inseparable from their debit cards, Dean of Belfast Stephen Forde said this year also marks the first time donations can be made "with a simple tap of the card" on the cathedral steps.
Battling a heavy flu on a crisp December Monday, he said over £168,000 was raised last year to help hundreds of local charities.
"I love being part of Black Santa, it's something where you realise you've built on a tradition that's gone before," the Dean said.
"This is the 43rd year of so much goodwill from the people of Belfast and far beyond, so we realise the importance of the money we raise."
With the dust still settling from last week's general election, the Dean said the effects of austerity is still a major problem for many in Northern Ireland.
"What I'm doing by standing on the steps of Belfast Cathedral with the other canons is really important for the lives of so many other people," he said.
"Sometimes we can focus on ourselves at Christmas and it can seem quite comfortable.
"But for so many people when they're having to make choices for themselves as to whether they can buy a present or food.
"Whether they have enough money for nappies if they have somewhere to stay. Are they someone whose landlord has moved them out of accommodation and they're in a single-room in a bed and breakfast. This is the reality of Christmas for so many people in our society today.
"What we do with Black Santa hopes to make a difference for so many of them.
"We have a particular focus this year with people who have come to Northern Ireland as refugees, for those who are homeless or those who have mental health issues.
"All the money we receive helps those people make a real difference."
Keeping an eye on the weather forecast, he said his other goal was to keep his voice long enough to deliver the Christmas services.
"I have tremendous support from the other canons in the cathedral who help me make it through.
"Together we will make a difference through the generosity of so many people for this Christmas season and well beyond," he explained.
The festive tradition takes place in the week before Christmas and was first started in 1976 by Dean Sammy Crooks.
Wearing the traditional black, Anglican cloak the local Press dubbed him 'Belfast's Black Santa', with the name sticking ever since.
The charities involved range from mental health and homeless charities, medical research, youth and the elderly, improving employment opportunities, Christian Aid as well as smaller charities that cannot afford paid fundraisers.
All funds raised go directly to the selected charities and the cathedral does not take any of the funding for itself.
There are hundreds of applications for Black Santa funding from charities every year. After Christmas, the chosen organisations send representatives to the Good Samaritans Service where the donated funds are distributed.
This year's donations already include £900 from the British Deer Society in Northern Ireland, raised at a banquet of venison organised by the Ulster Reform Club.
The club's president Michael Copeland said that the latest donation brings the total raised to £6,200 after seven years of fundraising.