Over the last four weeks, hundreds of volunteers, businesses and members of the public have supported the Belfast #ChristmasAppeal, providing much needed support to families in need across the city.

North Belfast Advice Partnership and The People’s Kitchen Belfast, working in partnership with a range of community groups and charities across city, spearheaded the #ChristmasAppeal2020 initiative. With the support of hundreds of volunteers, the appeal has provided much needed support to over 3,500 families across Belfast in the run up to Christmas, exceeding the initial target of 2,500.

The Belfast Giants, supported by The Odyssey Trust put their weight behind the initiative, providing complimentary use of The SSE Arena, Belfast throughout December, to help the organisation scale up its operation for 2020. The SSE Arena, Belfast was the central hub for the packing and distribution of bespoke Christmas food hampers and Santa sacks for families across Belfast.

Donations of food, toys and toiletries, collected from drop off points across the city, were brought to Arena and assembled by an army of volunteers into bespoke hampers, matched to specific families’ needs.

Through no fault of their own, many families will not be able to provide the Christmas celebrations they would like in 2020. It has been an extremely difficult year, as many workers and families have suffered loss of income or employment due to the pandemic, leading to a rapid change of circumstances.

Over the past few years, North Belfast Advice Partnership and The People’s Kitchen have supported local families and individuals with benefit and debt advice, food parcels, homeless support and hot meals. Following the onset of the pandemic, both organisations have seen a huge surge in demand for their services, as poverty levels across the city soar.

Sinead McKinley, North Belfast Advice Partnership Coordinator said: This has been a Christmas Appeal like no other we have ever experienced before. So many people right across our city are facing a very difficult winter and cannot provide the Christmas celebrations they would like this year.

“Seeing the size of the operation at the SSE Arena gives you an insight into the scale of the poverty problem in our city in 2020. No one chooses to live in poverty, and it can happen to absolutely anyone. The challenges have been heightened by the pandemic, as people have unexpectedly lost income and employment.

“Working with People’s Kitchen Belfast and our community partners across the city, and an incredible army of volunteers, we have been able to provide much needed help to over 3,500 families this Christmas. It was a huge community effort and we are so thankful to everyone that supported this year’s Appeal.”

Amongst the hundreds of volunteers supporting the initiative were a group of young people from the Fresh Start through Sport programme. Supported by the Belfast Giants, the Irish Football Association, Ulster Rugby and Ulster GAA, the innovative new programme uses the appeal of sport as a means to engage with young people who are potentially at risk from becoming involved in criminality. A special module on volunteering, centred around the Belfast #ChristmasAppeal2020, providing participants with an insight into the benefits of giving back to your local community and potential pathways into employment.

Commenting on the initiative, Jeff Mason, Belfast Giants said: “Volunteering and giving back to the community is at the heart of the Belfast Giants ethos, which says ‘In the land of the Giants, everyone is equal.’ Over the last four weeks, as a club, we’ve been proud to support the vital #ChristmasAppeal2020, with the backing of The Odyssey Trust, which has provided The SSE Arena, Belfast as the central hub for this incredible operation.

“We were also proud to provide an opportunity for young people in the Fresh Start through Sport programme to get hands-on experience in volunteering; seeing first-hand the positive impact one individual can have when they come together with others to do something that will benefit their local community. We would like to thank each and every volunteer and every person that has donated to this appeal throughout December; your support will make a big difference to local families this Christmas.”

Other core partners supporting the initiative include Cliftonville FC, Crusaders FC, Unite the Union, TAMHI, Newington Housing Association, Radius Association, community and voluntary sector groups and schools across the city.

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