Northern Ireland news

Black Santa now accepts charity donations via debit cards

The Very Reverend John Mann and Canon Bob Jones keeping the Black Santa sit in with the times as they are now accepting credit and debit cards outside St Anne's Cathedral in Belfast. Picture by Matt Bohill 
Jennifer Maloney

BELFAST'S Black Santa is bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase 'Christmas cards'.

For during this season of goodwill, he will now be accepting donations via credit or debit card at his collection barrell alongside traditional cash.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, has just started his fifth annual sit-out on the steps of St Anne's Cathedral.

This is the 39th sit-out, a tradition established by Dean Sammy Crooks in 1976.

Dean Mann said: “Like many another annual event it never seems like a year, but the gloves and hat, cloak and scarf are ready. 

“Some gifts we thank others for again and again. It’s the story of Black Santa really. Do we tire of it and suffer charity fatigue? I hope not. 

"The gifts that are given are used for the benefit of many, and that need has not diminished. 

“Already some cheques have arrived, and this year, by way of moving things on, I have been provided with a card reader terminal at the barrel.

"Can you believe it? Would Dean Crooks 39 years ago have imagined that a piece of plastic could be read to make a donation? 

“But in the end it is down to generosity, goodwill and concern for others. Those things don’t change – ever!”

When Dean Crooks started the collection in 1976 he wore a distinctive dark cloak and was immediately dubbed Black Santa.

Dean Crooks was installed as dean and vicar at St Anne's Cathedral in 1970 when he was aged 50.

In 1975, after severe flooding in Bangladesh resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, the Dean decided to stand on Donegall Street outside his cathedral to collect money for the disaster appeal.

This impromptu collection proved so successful he was persuaded to repeat it the following Christmas, using the slogan 'give and let live', later going on to stage regular 'sit-outs' and collecting millions of pounds for charities at the same time.

The Dean died in a road accident in 1986 aged 66.

Millions of pounds have been raised over the years by the Deans, aided by Church of Ireland clergy and others.

Dean Mann will stand on the steps of St Anne’s, come rain, hail or snow, every day until Christmas Eve and will be supported by members of the Cathedral Chapter.

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