There has been a promising start to the annual Black Santa fundraising appeal, despite the trying times facing Ulster householders.
The Dean of St Anne’s, Belfast, yesterday began his eight-day sit-out at the front of the cathedral, aimed at garnering £200,000 for good causes across the Province.
The 58-year-old Rev John Mann, clad in a hat, gloves and five layers of clothing, began manning the barrel on Donegall Street at around 8.45am.
Five hours later the appeal had raised an estimated £1,800.
It comes on top of around £20,000 which had already been pledged through the post.
The dean said: “I would say that’s as good as the previous two years I’ve been here.
“There is that general culture of giving. We know Belfast people are very generous. We’ve very hopeful (of meeting the target), but I do realise times are hard.
“Charities are struggling; especially small charities that don’t have the fundraising machinery.”
Once complete, the cash raised will be spread across about 200 charities, mostly Northern Irish-based ones.
The black-clad dean was gathering up the cash in a specially-made barrel, built in Bushmills, which is emptied regularly and its contents taken into the cathedral where it is counted and banked.
“I’ll probably be out here seven-eighths of the time,” he said. “People are awfully good to come. If I’m not here, I’m really sorry to miss them.”
He was continuing to stand on the street until about 5.30pm or 6pm, with the help of some other churchmen who were lending a hand.
“It’s good to have the other canvassers here,” he said.
“We need at least two for security, apart from anything else.”
He was particularly thankful for his gigantic, home-made scarf.
It was given to him when he first took up his duties as dean by Florence, an elderly lady in a nursing home.
“She said, ‘You are to wear that when you’re on the Black Santa’. And I have worn it every day I’ve been on. It’s really warm.”
But regardless of the weather, he will be keeping up his stand, adding that if it rains “we just bring umbrellas”.
He said: “I’ll be fine. So long as I don’t catch cold or something like that it’s no problem.”
This is the 37th annual Black Santa fundraiser.
It was taking place only a short distance from the scene of Friday night’s bombing (see page 11).
The Black Santa will fundraise on the street every day up to and including Christmas Eve, with the exception of this Sunday.