Dean Houston McKelvey will don his Black Santa persona for the last time when this year’s appeal gets underway on Thursday December 16.
After 11 sit-outs in the winter cold, the Dean is set to retire in April. But as he looks back over 10 years as Black Santa, the Dean stressed it was not a one man effort, but a venture that required – and received – the support of a tremendous team of staff and volunteers.
And he paid tribute to the vision of Dean Sammy Crooks, the man who had established the Black Santa Appeal as a fundraiser for poor and charitable causes back in 1976. “Dean Crooks started it, Dean Jack Shearer developed it and we have taken it a little bit further, but it was just such a brilliant idea in the first place,” he said. “Had the Cathedral employed Saatchi and Saatchi they could not have come up with an idea as good as Dean Crooks did.
“There is a lot of affirmation in the sit-out, one neighbour giving to another who is involved in some sort of community or health work and saying ‘I appreciate what you do for Northern Ireland society.’”
This will be Dean McKelvey’s 10th Christmas sit-out, but he also organised an additional one following the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 which raised more than £1.5 million in the space of just a few days.
Although the actual sit-out begins on December 16, the Dean revealed that this year’s appeal has already raised £90,000 in postal donations. He thanked his staff and team of volunteers for the time and commitment they devote to this aspect of the appeal.
“The real secret to the success of the Black Santa Appeal has been dedicated teamwork from an office staff of one, the immense help I have had from my wife Roberta , and volunteers like the cathedral stewards who stuff envelopes and the people who come in to do administration work in relation to the postal donations,” the Dean said.
These include Vernon Clegg, past chorister and cathedral steward, who administers the Gift Aid donations each year, former Vicar Chorals like Ronnie Lawrenson, David Humphries and Charles Kenny, and past chorister and Minor Canon Jim Sims.
Not to mention the Bishops and Canons who give up their time to man the sit-out each year.
“It is a great team to be working with. It is definitely not a one-man show,” he said. “I will miss the craic on the good days but on the wet and windy days there are few people who want to hang around.”
He conceded that this year’s sit-out could be his toughest yet, both economically and weather-wise, with bitter winds and snow predicted for later this week.
During his time at the Cathedral, Dean McKelvey introduced the Good Samaritans’ Service which takes place on the first Sunday in February. Here cheques are handed to the very many deserving community and voluntary groups. An exception is the cheque to Christian Aid, which is handed over every Christmas Eve. “This means that before we sit down for our Christmas dinner we have dispatched help through trustworthy agencies to parts of the world which need it most,” the Dean said.
Black Santa and his helpers will be on the steps of St Anne’s Cathedral with their barrel from 9am to 5pm every day from Thursday until December 23, with the exception of Sunday December 19 when the Cathedral hosts Carols for the City at 3.30pm. Black Santa will also be outside the Cathedral from 9am on Christmas Eve until it is time to prepare for the evening’s worship.