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Crusaders volunteers unite to help deliver meals to community


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Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter

�INPHO/Stephen Hamilton

Stephen Baxter

Crusaders have assembled a mini army of 90 volunteers to help deliver hot meals to homes across north Belfast during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ambitious project kicked off on Friday and involves Crues fans teaming up with community partners to reach out the most vulnerable in the community, while reassuring them they are not alone at this anxious time.

Meals are being prepared at the kitchen in the Roy McDonald Centre and will be delivered to homes over the next 12 weeks.

More than 290 meals were distributed on Friday and 450 could be handed out on Saturday.

Crusaders manager Stephen Baxter, his daughter Rachel and several players are also offering a helping hand. Among the community groups backing the initiative are New Beginnings, Hubb, Mariners, FUSE and LCAP while Belfast City Council is also offering support.

The community group volunteers are also carrying out critical work on behalf of the vulnerable including collecting prescriptions, collecting food, delivering emergency packs and are grateful for any assistance.

Crues general manager Bernard Thompson said: "This is Crusaders working alongside key partners and we want the north Belfast community to come together.

"We are a club in the heart of this community playing our part like everyone else.

"The residents are very happy to receive our packages and it's a big operation. This is about community support and everyone reaching out to help others."

Crues fan and boxing hero Carl Frampton will be along to help out on Monday with coaches from Midland Boxing Club.

Thompson added: “Our list of volunteers has hit 90 and it’s not just Crusaders fans. Stephen (Baxter) is on the list too and he will support us.

“I think it’s heartening that people are willing to help at a time when all our lives have been disrupted.”

Crues treasurer Tommy Whiteside said: “People will get meals free of charge. I think the target is 2,000 meals or more a week over the next 12 weeks, that would be 24,000 meals.

“The volunteers are helping to prepare the food and package it while community groups help out with delivery.”

Crusaders chairman Ronnie Millar said: “It’s so important that we do everything we can to work together to help those in our society who are most vulnerable and need our help, and to reassure them that they are not alone.”

Millar added that the future of his club and their Irish League rivals cannot be taken for granted as the coronavirus crisis deepens.

The game in Northern Ireland is set for a long suspension and with no gate receipts, clubs are having to weather a financial storm. The Northern Ireland Football League and Irish FA have recognised the severity of the situation by releasing funds but the longer the crisis goes on, clubs could face a battle for survival.

Crusaders became the first Irish Premiership outfit to announce that all their employees would be on furlough leave during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But the club will still have bills to pay in the coming months after almost drowning in a sea of debt in their recent past, and the Crues are keeping a close eye on their finances.

“When this is over in a few months hopefully, we don’t want to be in a position in which the bank and businesses are looking money,” said Millar.

“Bills have to be paid and a lot of clubs will find it difficult. We don’t have a wealthy investor like Larne or Glentoran and I think the reality is for the other clubs they may find it harder to cope in the long-term.

“It will be amazing if all the clubs survive, particularly those who were struggling.

“Times are hard for all clubs and we just don’t want to be in a financially vulnerable position.

“And when it comes to signing players, clubs aren’t going to have a lot of money to do that.”

  • The suspension of all football activities in the Republic of Ireland due to the coronavirus crisis has been extended until May 5.
  • The Football Association of Ireland made the announcement following directives from the Irish government.

Belfast Telegraph