“The Impact is Enormous”: Gifts for Seafarers at Christmas


by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Chaplain Marshal Bundren hustles as the Christmas season closes in. He scurries through Menards, Walmart, Dollar Tree and online sites to complete his mission of placing 600 gifts on ships as a message to international seafarers and those on the Great Lakes that they are not forgotten. His outreach includes multiple ports near Gary, Indiana and those on the south side of Chicago. Though seafarers ought to be remembered every Christmas, Bundren is stretching his funds to ramp up his gifts this year.

“I want to give them something significant,” he said.

Aware of the chronic isolation onboard, earphones are included this year with practical items like toiletries and treats. 

Recently, Bundren’s mission received a $400 gift via the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Trust. The funds dispersed by the North American Maritime Ministry Association (NAMMA) support his Christmas giving program where minimal funds are otherwise available.

“The impact is enormous. I love it,” said Bundren.

“I was almost ready to throw in the towel,” said the sixty-nine-year-old chaplain.

With limited funding and a drop in volunteers, he thought it was “impossible to get done by Christmas.”

Thanks to the financial boost and ingenuity, his resourcefulness has paid off. Securing the assistance of a high school wrestling coach in his neighborhood, the renters of the church parsonage, and the dedication of a Ross Baptist Church deacon and his wife, Stella, bundles of socks and gloves, toothbrushes and more are being sub-divided into gift boxes, wrapped and prepared for delivery.

“They are old fashion Church workers,” said Bundren.  

Stella crochets 500 watch caps annually for inclusion in the seafarer’s Christmas boxes. A stocking hat may seem a small item by some, but to those working on the decks of huge vessels in frigid waters, it is a big deal.

“I just love doing it,” said Stella Evans, a long-term supporter of seafarers.

Evans began visiting ships in the Port of Indiana in the early 1970s. At that time, she and her husband would take their children on port visits. Time has passed. Things have changed. Evans remains an integral part of care as she creates hats from home.

“I remember one time a seafarer made me a hat,” she said. “His name was Oliver. It came in a cigar box. That means a lot to me.”

Within global shipping, language and cultural barriers and pandemic protocols there are unseen workers. For them, Christmas gifts hit home.

“They try to understand why a stranger would do this for them,” the chaplain said. “It is because of Christ.”

Still feeling a bit squeezed by his calendar, Bundren adjusted his deadline to include the 12 days beyond Dec. 25. Thanks to his faithful volunteers he’s fairly confident seafarers far from home will personally receive gifts from the greater maritime community through his Midwestern ports this year.

Photo courtesy of Marshal Bundren.


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals