A Belfast cab driver so moved by stories of need from passengers, has taken matters into his own hands to help the needy.
Dad-of-five, John Kelly, is planning a food and toy drive, saying it’s time for him to give back to the community who supported his business over the years.
John told Belfast Live: “Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined things are so bad for a lot of people.
“I own a couple of local taxi companies and it’s when you are speaking to people that you really find out there’s a lot struggling in the area.
“I put a post on Facebook to try and help and that’s how it started off.
“First of all I ran a community event so kids could come and see Santa for free.
“People contacted me after that and told me that they were experiencing difficulties and they wouldn’t be able to provide a Christmas for their kids.
“Some people who had four young children said they hadn’t eaten for two days.
“I feel really bad for them, some of the messages would break your heart.
“It’s North Belfast, it’s West Belfast, it’s all over the place - there’s people contacting us from all over. The problem is a lot bigger than people could ever imagine.
“Some people just don’t have enough. Just yesterday I helped a family that had no nappies, no food and had no clothes for a nine-month-old baby.
“It’s just unbelievable. A mother contacted me and asked how badly off do you have to be to get help.
“I just asked what was her situation and told her we would try and help her regardless - she had kept her child off school because she couldn’t afford to give her child a snack at breaktime.
“I was buying this all out of my own pocket but the problem is far bigger than I can sort out on my own.
“When I started this off I thought there were only going to be five or six families but the list grew.
“We now have up to 50 families that we are trying to help.”
The 37-year-old said many of those he is helping had contacted the authorities, but in some cases it help was too long in coming.
And he said a number of factors have impacted the people who have reached out to him.
John explained: “Some people have been laid off, some people are struggling because their partner has taken their life.
“Another one was struggling with cancer and there was one who took on a few kids because their mother died and now she is struggling to support them.
“There are a lot of different scenarios across the board.
“We’re running about here at the minute getting food parcels and stuff, trying to make sure they have a Christmas dinner and that there’s stuff underneath the tree.”
So now John is appealing for any others to help him.
He said: “I am trying to get sponsors. I have got some toys and stuff myself and I have got donations from people.
“I asked Paul for help on this. Paul is a gentleman; he never stops and does a lot for the community.
“I also asked YEHA project and Lighthouse, so we are combining our resources to try to help these families.
“Even with the help that’s we’re providing, it’s just a short-term solution to a much bigger problem.”
John has set up a fundraising page on Facebook and has already dropped off a number of food parcels to St Patrick’s Soup Kitchen, which is also supported by Belfast SDLP councillor Paul McCusker.
He said donations can also be dropped off at his cab firm, Antrim Road Cabs at 174 Antrim Road.