Black Santa appeal tops £500,000

Black Santa appeal in Belfast
Dean McKelvey has extended his charity appeal
The "Black Santa" charity appeal to aid the victims of the Indian Ocean disaster has raised more than £500,000.

The Dean of Belfast, Houston McKelvey, said two barrels had been put outside St Anne's Cathedral because of the numbers arriving to donate money.

He said he would presenting the first cheque to Christian Aid next week.

During the annual pre-Christmas appeal on the steps of the cathedral, Dean McKelvey had already raised more than £200,000 for local charities.

'Staggering and moving'

However, he decided to extend his vigil for the first time following the massive tidal waves which devastated coastal areas around the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day.

The United Nations expects the number of dead to exceed 150,000 and millions have been made homeless.

Dean McKelvey said: "Despite the harshest of wintry weather complete with absolute downpours of rain, people kept coming to the barrel outside the cathedral to give most generously to the appeal.

"These people were determined to help and they were not going to be put off by dreadful weather.

"People of all ages and all backgrounds are being exceptionally generous."

Since 1976, successive deans of Belfast have sat outside the Church of Ireland cathedral to raise money for charity, and were dubbed Black Santa because of their distinctive clothing.

The dean and his colleagues have confirmed that they will continue to collect on the steps of the cathedral between 1000 GMT and 1600 GMT throughout next week until at least Saturday 8 January.

' Respond generously'

Meanwhile, the Presbyterian church is asking members of its congregation to support and contribute to the ongoing aid efforts in south east Asia.

On Wednesday, the church will open its doors at its Belfast headquarters for three hours of reflection.

The Moderator, Dr Ken Newell, said he was confident that people would respond generously.

He said: "There will be a very systematic and co-ordinated and generous presbyterian response that will, I believe, hit unprecedented heights of generosity."

He said that the money would be channelled through partner groups who were already working on the ground in the area to held victims of the tsunami.

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