Christmas at Anchor House

Article audio (courtesy Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Nestled just south of the bustling Port of Tampa, Florida on Tampa Bay, is Port Manatee; a deep water seaport on the Gulf of Mexico. While a comparatively smaller port, it’s geographic footprint and impact in the shipping industry is increasing with an annual economic impact of more than $5.1 billion. Despite its welcome growth, ships that dock at Port Manatee find it a warm and personal place because of a ministry to seafarers – Anchor House. Personal care matters, particularly during the holidays.

The Anchor House mission began its outreach to seafarers in 1991. Its initial purpose, to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of seafarers included a Christmas Ditty Bag Program to remember those at sea. A hand-knit watch cap for each seafarer was crafted by prayer partners and global thinkers. Even through a worldwide pandemic, its volunteers, sewers and knitters continue with seafarers in the foreground of their Christmas plans.

“I can’t count all the knitters and sewers,” said Trish Alligood, Anchor House General Manager. “When that generation dies I don’t know what will happen.”

Anchor House gives a Christmas gift to every seafarer visiting Port Manatee from November to January. The coordinated effort involves caring people who create throughout the year, volunteers and church organizers delivering, and others even adding messages to each knitted hat.

During the pandemic, Anchor House, like most other non-profits lost many of its older volunteers. Now, new ones are joining. Eight young women from the State College of Florida recently donated a day to prepare ditty bags for delivery to ships. Snapshots of smiling seafarers holding ditty bags are captured on Facebook pages and are sent to family members around the world. Many captains reserve the gifts to give at sea on Christmas Day. 

“I took some ditty bags onboard the other day,” said Alligood.

 “This is just what we are going to need Christmas morning,” a Filipino seafarer responded.

Thanks to face-to-face distribution, Alligood can witness that the mission is bringing holiday cheer that travels. There is an understanding among this invisible workforce about strangers caring about them. Handmade items impress them that real people really care.

“I love that they sense that the ditty bags and hats are from many hands,” she said.

The Port of Manatee has four ships that return very regularly. For those, the consistency allows the mission to plan shared meals, worship services, small parties and opportunities for deeper connections and support.

For the many others sailing the globe with short turn-around times and ever-changing ports of delivery, Anchor House’s Ditty Bag Program will hopefully resonate as sincere care and concern regardless of where each seafarer finds himself on Christmas Day.

Image: Anchor House Facebook. Eight young women from the State College of Florida recently donated a day to prepare ditty bags for delivery to ships.


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