Editor’s note: Rhonda Cummins, a retired Calhoun County extension agent, provides an update about Christmas at Sea. Cummins is working with Bishop Brendan Cahill, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Victoria and Bishop Promoter of the Apostleship of the Sea for the United States, to establish an Apostleship of the Sea presence at the port of Point Comfort as well as an ecumenical center.

Christmas at Sea for the port in Point Comfort was a huge success because of the generosity and dedication of individuals and several groups across the Crossroads.

These supporters included a wide range of businesses, schools, organizations and individuals in Victoria, Yorktown, Yoakum, Edna, Bay City, Palacios, Collegeport, Wharton, El Campo, Seadrift, Port Lavaca, Point Comfort, Louise and Lolita. The combined effort resulted in 926 gifts that were delivered during the Christmas season to the invisible seafarers whose work supports the local and global economy as their jobs transport “90% of everything.”

As one volunteer put it, “These gifts are like a message in a bottle. You make your gift and send it out. You don’t know who will get it or when, but someone in the world will. Your gift will touch the world.”

Indeed, between Dec. 2 and Jan. 2, two dedicated volunteers with clearance from port security delivered 517 gifts inside the port to a total of 31 vessels. The gifts were received by the citizens of 20 countries: Belgium, China, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, India, Jamaica, Latvia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia, Taiwan, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States. Regardless of size or nationality, all vessels were approached by the ship visitors with a hearty, “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas! We have gifts for your crew.” All were excited and appreciative.

The American crews on the towboats were the most surprised. This included 13 towboats in the Devall Fleet and Pickering Basin at the Port of Victoria where 69 gifts were delivered from the church van after being picked up from Bishop Brendan Cahill at the Chancery.

The simple fact that someone took the time and effort to remember them at this special time of year brings smiles to the faces of both the receivers and givers.

One captain emailed: “It was a wonderful surprise to come back aboard today to find your gifts. You touched us all today with your warmth and kindness, making it a little more tolerable for us as we’re away from our families this Christmas.”

The donated gifts included necessities such as T-shirts, socks, knit caps, razors, shaving cream, toothpaste and toothbrushes, as wells as treats like microwave popcorn, mixed nuts, trail mix, jerky, chewing gum, playing cards and baseball caps.

Great care is taken by participating groups to make a variety of gifts of equal value to share with these hard-working men and women (yes, there are some females at sea) whose travels take them away from home for months at a time, including holidays. The gifts they receive from a seafarer center may be the only ones they have while away from family and friends. Opening these packages gives them the opportunity to share in the joy of giving and receiving with their crew mates.

In one email, a Jamaican second officer wrote, “We were like kids, we were so happy. We exchanged, shared and gave among ourselves what we already have and what others really want that we can do without. I didn’t get the chance to take pictures ha-ha, I was too excited. But the smiles on our faces were a relief for those couple of minutes.”

To ensure that all the gifts could be delivered during the 2019 Christmas season, 340 gifts were taken to other locations, including three tow vessels in Corpus Christi at the Corpus Christi International Seamen’s Center, which was nearly out of gifts the week before Christmas, and the Port Arthur International Seafarer Center, which was also running low on gifts.

Collecting and distributing the boxes is no easy feat. The process started in September as various groups were contacted to help and word started reaching people through newsletters, bulletins, emails, word of mouth, social media and news articles over the next many weeks. The first gifts arrived in October, followed by donations throughout November and December. It helps with storage when the gifts continue to come in as they are being delivered.

Rhonda Cummins can be reached at stellamaris@olgulf.org.

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