by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
More than 35 churches are volunteering in the Christmas Ditty Bag Program for seafarers at the port of Seattle, Washington.
“People have been so generous,” said Rev. Christi Chapman, Executive Director of the Seattle Seafarers’ Center. “I was blown away by the people’s engagement in this.”
The program has a history of involvement. This year volunteers came from an even larger circle. The generosity stretches from Baptist churches to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Among participants is the Episcopal Church of St. Antony of Egypt in Silverdale, Washington, which hosted a Ditty Bag sewing party in October where volunteers sewed 100 bags for Christmas giving. In November, additional volunteers stuffed the bags with gift items including hats, body-wash, game cards, socks, sunscreen, lip balm, chocolates and more during the annual Ditty Bag Day. This year, Discovery Health donated 1000 medical-grade hand sanitizers.
The center plans to provide 1,000 to 2,000 bags this Christmas season. The distribution of gifts to the international seafarers began Nov. 24 and will continue to the end of January.
The Seattle Seafarers’ Center received a $400 gift from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) Seafarers’ Trust via NAMMA to assist with the growing demands of the Christmas outreach.
“That gift was a huge relief for us,” said the executive director. “We continue to buy additional basic necessities to complete the bags.”
“This has always been an ecumenical ministry. There is a common theme and desire to work together in a meaningful way,” said Chapman. The Seattle Seafarers’ Center is an affiliate of the global Ministry to Seafarers and shares its space with Catholic chaplains also serving seafarers.
The Archdiocese of Seattle’s Director of Pastoral Care and Outreach, Tom Cotton, is involved in the Seattle Seafarers’ Center as a Catholic partner. He also serves on the ministry’s board.
Cotton has presented Christmas gifts to seafarers in Seattle and met them personally. He shares his insight.
“The gifts say ‘we see you, we honor you, and we respect the work you do,’” said Cotton. “It helps them feel less invisible. They feel cared for.”
About 60 ships berth monthly between Seattle and a much smaller but growing port in Everett, Washington, where a new couple has just volunteered to serve the ships in their port.
“Bob picked up 100 bags for the ships there,” said Chapman. “He is so incredibly enthusiastic.”
Finding volunteers during the pandemic has stressed many missions. But in Seattle and Everett, those with a personal or professional connection to the sea find meaning in giving back through the port ministries. The influx could not have come at a better time.
“Something shifted,” said Chapman. “There is some stirring of the Spirit within people.”
Mac Murray, a retired Episcopal priest recently settled in Seattle. While searching the Diocese of Olympia website he discovered the church’s partnership with the Ministry to Seafarers. Before long he was picking up carloads of ditty bags from Bellingham and Redmond for the Christmas giving program. A sailor himself, serving seafarers fits.
“The community involvement includes the greater Seattle area. And the environment in these churches is marvelous,” said Murray. “There are knitting groups all around cranking out hats for the program. Hats, hats, hats.”
Volunteering as a ship visitor, the retired priest enjoys transporting gift bags from the donors and delivering them to the ships. When he arrives with gifts at the gangway, word spreads throughout the ship as he advances to the crew mess for distribution.
“The crew is just delighted to have the bags,” he said. “Suddenly almost all the crew appears; to see their level of excitement – oh gosh!”
Time is ticking, days are passing. Like elves at the North Pole, the positive pressure is on. The only difference is that with the Seattle workers, it’s for real.