by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
In port cities across North America ministries to seafarers are gearing up for a global Christmas giveaway. Staff and volunteers are focused on a commonly forgotten population; those working at sea. Among them are about a dozen ship visitors and chaplains prepared to climb gangways throughout the Port Houston ship channel, loaded with Christmas cheer.
The channel connects 200 private and pubic terminals spread over 52 miles which the Houston International Seafarer’s Center hopes to reach with Christmas gifts this year.
Last year, the center distributed over 9,000 gifts to seafarers from around the globe on 403 ships. Those receiving gifts represented “strangers” from 61 countries who work at sea. According to Executive Director Dana Blume, the mission is on target to do the same this year for many unable see their families for nearly a year and often longer.
(Images courtesy of Houston International Seafarers’ Center)
A similar mix is evident as donations begin arriving from beyond Houston to be boxed and gift-wrapped by volunteers. The outreach includes corporate to individual partners who seem invigorated by the chance to join the tradition and make a real difference at Christmas.
Within the port, the Houston Pilots, WISTA, and the Greater Houston Port Bureau partnered this year to donate 400 boxes. Others like the St. Jerome Catholic Daughters of America (Court – Ave Maria #2001), remain involved since they began 55 years ago, by providing 55 boxes.
Due to COVID-19 challenges last year, the center created an Amazon wish list so participants could stay involved. The link from the HSCI webpage enabled donors to engage with a simple click of a button. Partners selected their gifts online from an array of options for direct delivery to the center. This ease of access continues as online donations funnel in from across the state.
“We have a lot of churches where one person champions the cause and others join,” said the mission’s director. “An example is Tallowood Baptist Church of Houston, which donates 650 boxes.”
Meanwhile, at the seafarers’ center a crew of 20 workers blending seasoned volunteers, board members, National Honor Society students and more assemble, wrap and bag gift boxes for delivery along the Houston channel.
“We begin delivering to the seafarers Dec. 3 and continue until the gifts are gone.” said Blume.
“Our greatest need is supply and manpower. As church demographics change, we need to keep the word out and maintain excitement. I educate young people about the connection between what they have in their lives and the seafarers.”
This Christmas, an average of 22 gift-wrapped shoe boxes loaded with gloves, games, candies and toiletries will find their way to workers onboard who are far from homes, traditions and families.
“For a lot of these workers, this may be the only gift they receive. We decided to add more clothing and snacks this year.” said Blume. “When someone does a random act of kindness you want to pay it forward. I like to think there is something in the gifts that makes them happy.”
She recounts an interaction with an Eastern European captain while onboard delivering gifts.
“The captain was hesitant to take the gifts, thinking he had to pay for them,” she said. “The chaplain explained that strangers donated them as gifts.
‘I don’t believe in your god, but this kindness makes me reconsider,’” he said.
Contact: If you would like to contribute to the Houston International Seafarers’ Center please call (713) 672-0511 or check out https://houstonseafarers.com/