Galveston Seafarers’ Christmas

Article audio (courtesy of Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Giving can begin with just a conversation.

Rob Henkel, Vice President of Operations and Galveston Cruise for Ceres Terminals Inc. found a conversation at the docks that lead to a much-needed gift.

Henkel and friends at Ceres extended its concern for seafarers in a tangible way by recently donating a 16-passenger van to the Galveston Seafarer Center in the Port of Galveston, Texas.

During his experience in various ports throughout the country, Henkel noticed the impact of seafarer centers.

“I have always had an affinity for seafarers and appreciate the incredible amount of things that crew members benefit from, in the centers provided,” he said.

“Seafarers need to be taken care of and I wanted to do something.”

The Port of Galveston is the fourth most popular U.S. cruise port and only home port in Texas.  The industry is a major source of port revenue with an estimated 1.1 million passengers sailing. Consequently, it is a major source of seafarers and associated needs also. 

Henkel puts it in perspective.

“There are 2,000 seafarers on the Allure of the Seas cruise ship,” he said, which docks at Port Galveston.

During the pandemic, the new director of the Galveston Seafarers’ Center would pull alongside ships to deliver packages.

“I met Rob when I was waiting for clearance to board ships,” said director, Jim Lewis. “He walked up and asked a few questions. We began talking about the seafarer center. A relationship developed on the dock which ultimately led to the donation of a van to transport seafarers.

“I was overwhelmed,” said Lewis.

Lewis, a former UPS employee joined the GSC staff about three years ago and seems to thrive on meeting the needs of seafarers. On his feet for hours when crew members from cruise ships flood the center during their limited time off their vessel, Lewis is in his element. He is blown away by the gratitude of seafarers and the dedication of the mission’s volunteers, particularly at Christmas.

 “This is the most rewarding job I have ever had,” he said. “We just gave out 100 Christmas shoe boxes filled with personal hygiene products, t-shirts, socks, flashlight, gloves and more. The appreciation is equal to the dedication.”

Along with the cruise industry, the Galveston port moves more than 4 million tons of cargo annually. Each vessel has an average of 20 crew members. Currently, more than 400 filled boxes have been donated from churches, civic groups and individuals for the cargo ships and fishers at the docks.

 “The outpouring of support is impressive. A slew of volunteers help out,” said Lewis. “I could not do it alone.”   

During November, 1,544 cruise ship crew members visited the center where access to most of their needs is met. In addition, 1,000 were transported between the vessels and center or to shopping. Since they receive attention and care regularly, the GSC Christmas focus is on the crew of cargo ships and fishers this year.

“There seems to be a tighter grip on them, with only one or two in the center per week,” said Lewis.

Deacon Jeff Willard, port chaplain, and other volunteers deliver Christmas boxes to the ships at the cargo docks between December and mid-January. Each box is personally given with a hand-knit or crocheted muffler or hat provided by the ten volunteers of the Hooks and Needles Club, who began knitting in January and have over 400 knitted donations so far.

If anything has changed since the pre-pandemic days it is an increase of activity.

“We are in better shape today,” said Lewis.

After reviewing past records Lewis reports that in 2019 an average of 690 seafarers visited the center per month.

“Now people are coming in by droves and volunteers are consistent and asking what more they can do,” he said.

The 61-year-old director has no lead in his boots.

“I give my elevator speech every time I have a change, T.V., radio, the Art Walk, Rotary and Chamber groups,” he said. “Anything I can do to keep GSC in the forefront.”

Enthusiasm, passion, support and drive – at Galveston it is all for the seafarers, especially at Christmas.


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