Meeting a Huge Need: Package Delivery for Seafarers

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Thousands of guests board and disembark the nine massive cruise vessels at the Port of Canaveral on a regular basis. The enormous vessels are geared to entertain and attend to patrons. Yet, for the approximate 2,200 employees per ship who serve these guests, being at your best for everyone can be stressful. 

The 50-60 nationalities of seafarers employed on an average Carnival cruise ship find someone to serve them in return at the Canaveral Port Ministry. The mission in Cape Canaveral, Fla., seeks to meet the human needs of these workers.

Package delivery has become one of the key services of the ministry, particularly throughout the recent pandemic. Whether medications or movies, connecting packages to the workers of the cruise ships is paramount.  Seafarers have a short window of time when the ship is in port. Having multiple things to do is difficult.

“Delivering packages is an opportunity for us. We feel it is important for them to get their packages,” said Mark Wodka, Canaveral Port Ministry director. “Serving everyone, all the time, is stressful for them.”

Seafarers order what they need online. The center receives the packages. They scan bar codes, track which ship and date for delivery into a database. Mission workers see that the proper person gets what they need.

Handling packages for 10-11 ships at a time requires concerted coordination. Wodka found volunteers and staff had a bit of a learning curve initially. It’s vastly improved.

When the Amazon truck delivers three pallets of packages it is a challenge. Volunteers who previously enjoyed the personal contact with seafarers grapple with the logistics of package delivery as a significant ministry.    

“It meets a huge need,” said Wodka. “Things like toiletries, Iphones…seafarers appreciate the level of care and responsibility we provide. It is in our mission.”

The outreach is a resource for seafarers. Volunteers put a verse on each package to encourage the recipient. They also provide the Jesus Film in digital format. 

The Galveston Seafarers Center, in the Port of Galveston, Texas, also serves seafarers of cruise ships by delivering their packages. During the last seven months, Director Jim Lewis, recorded 9,284 packages delivered to Royal Caribbean, Liberty of the Seas crew members.

“During the pandemic, they could not get off the ship to purchase for themselves. They needed an avenue of support,” he said.

“It was really good for their mental health to get some relief.”

Lewis notes a few challenges to managing seafarers’ items.

Aside of obvious time and energy, delivering packages requires teamwork according to the ministry director, who formerly drove for UPS. He uses his knowledge to skillfully arrange items in his van for efficient and accurate delivery. Once he pulls alongside a vessel, each package is canine inspected by port security and then passes through additional ship security. Human Resource managers take over after that and Lewis is on to the next delivery.

Lewis cautions others against seafarers using online grocery shopping options from Walmart.

“My biggest obstacle was when grocery stores began delivering lots of grey plastic bags with no names on them.”

During an Omicron outbreak, the Carnival Cruise line had no package delivery and no crew could come to the center for six weeks.

Today, shore leave is allowed. Though brief. When seafarers pick up their packages at the Galveston center, they take advantage of the services provided. High-speed internet, karaoke, pool tables and bicycles offer a change of pace. There are people to chat with and transportation if time allows.

At Canaveral, a new level of activity in the center is occurring also as shore-leave increases.  Although some vessels only allow 50 workers off at a time, they come to the center. Volunteers are eager to see crew members face-to-face again. One Royal Caribbean ship docked and 300 seafarers visited the center. Wodka recalls a recent church group brought a lunch. Seafarers stayed around. It felt like before the pandemic.

“They knew about us,” said Wodka. “Having them be able to come to the center has helped them realize we are for them. And we are their ally.”

Thanks to the package delivery, a positive working relationship between the human resource department of the Royal Caribbean cruise lines and Canaveral Port Ministry has developed.

“They became our top sponsor at our Gala fundraising event with a $25,000 donation,” said the Wodka. “It was mind-blowing. I guess we are on their radar.”

“It’s been a real shot in the arm.”

Photos: Facebook The Galveston Seafarers Center and Canaveral Port Ministry.