BALLYMONEY’S Black Santa says he has been blown away after generous locals packed his Christmas sack with charity donations.
Liam Beckett - along with some of his little helpers - carried out his annual sit-out at High Street from December 19 until Christmas Eve with funds raised boosting the coffers of three good causes - St Vincent de Paul, Drop Inn Ministries and The Salvation Army.
Despite the credit crunch biting hard, north Antrim folk dug deep to help raise more than £4,200.
This included the savings of a school pupil from Balnamore who put away money throughout the year in order to donate to Ballymoney’s Black Santa.
Liam admitted to being taken aback at the total, which is up on last year’s.
“I am absolutely over the moon,” he said.
“Even with the downturn in the economy people dug deep, I’m delighted.
“I think this year’s total is up by around 25% this year compared to last year which is brilliant.
“It is a real team effort now.
“It is not only myself but also Elizabeth Johnston at Ballymoney Borough Council and also council staff Janice, Julie and Jean, who have been keeping an eye on finances.
“Eddie Cassells allowed us the use of his safe to store the money in and the PSNI helped escort me down with the money.
“A massive thank you to my team as well: Sammy McClements, Brian Daly and Ivor Wallace, and La Patisserie and Ground who provided hot food and drinks to keep us going.
“Ballymoney Round Table came along with a very welcome donation and there were also donations from the sports team at the BBC in Belfast, Billy and Marty Nutt and the Chairman of Coleraine Football Club.
“My very first donation was from my dear friend from Ballycastle, Maurice Laverty.
“And the final donation was from a lady at church on Sunday.
“All-in-all it was a fantastic achievement and a massive, massive thank-you to everybody for their support.”
Since Black Santa was started in Ballymoney by Liam in 2009 thousands of pounds have been raised for charity.
And Liam has had to endure Arctic conditions in the past couple of years with temperatures plummeting on occasion to a teeth-chattering minus -17C.
Thankfully his sit-out in 2011 was less uncomfortable with mild weather throughout the week.
All being well, Liam and his team plan to be back again for the venture next Christmas.
He said: “I can’t thank the people enough.
“You notice now there are regulars dropping in with donations.
“At this moment in time we will be going again next year.
“One schoolchild in particular saves all year round and last year brought their savings to donate to the Black Santa sit-out.
“This year the same family pulled up and the child again donated their year’s savings.
“Other school kids stop and give their pocket money regularly.
“That makes it all worthwhile.
“I can’t speak highly enough of local people.
“They never cease to amaze me.”