Seattle’s senior port chaplain Ken Hawkins on the success of the port’s signature Christmas giving program

28th November 2019

Community involvement is most vital to our work at the Seattle Seafarers Center. We have a wonderful opportunity to gain goodwill and build bridges to local churches, schools, and retiree groups.

Starting in 1994 we began a holiday gift program—ditty bags—that has produced outstanding results. That first year, an intrepid group of retirees and youth gathered at a makeshift space at the Port to pack roughly 150 ditty bags to be distributed at Christmas to seafarers in Port. Over the next two decades that program has grown—in 2018 to four locations including St John the Baptist Episcopal Church–we packed and distributed more than 3,000 ditty bags. 600 volunteers from all over the state of Washington contributed hand-knitted stocking caps (woolly hats to you Brits), colourful ditty bags, and mountains of shampoo, toothpaste and toiletry items.

The ladies of Pins and Needles, a crafts group at Brittany Park Retirement Community, contributed more than 500 hats and 100 handsewn bags to the cause. Each year we display them for all in the community to applaud. Joanne, a 90+ years young retiree, knit more than 275 last year and nearly that many already in 2019, earning her the sobriquet—THE MACHINE! These ladies contributed more than 2800 hours of service in support of our Mission.

At St John the Baptist more than 120 folks (including 50 youth) from Girl Scout And Boy Scout troops, local churches, the port community, and the Rotary Clubs packed 2,000 ditty bags on a happy and energetic Saturday morning last November.

And seafarers love the gifts. Imagine being at sea and away from loved ones at Christmas—often in cold, wintery weather far from shore. A group of Ukrainian seafarers, away from home since early May, shared a simple story, “Our families are probably not sure where we are this day. After a few years at sea with just two months at home each summer, the kids just take for granted that Dad is away every holiday. To be remembered with such kindness is really special!” Several broke into tears, moving our young intern Guy Crumpler to note, “We can touch hearts with such simple and warm examples of generosity.”

So we have folks making gifts, folks packing gifts, and the recipients—a chain of caring that links our community to those unheralded and often invisible seafarers whose efforts and skills bring us “90% of Everything”

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