A dedicated corps of volunteers works year round to provide gift packages to men and women who are scheduled to be at sea during the Christmas season. Initiated during World War I, the program will deliver more than 2,500 gift bundles this year.
Volunteers gathered in November at the International Maritime Center (also known as the Seafarers Club) in Oakland to stuff the packages, which include toothpaste, soap, shampoo, combs, candy, pens, stationery, caps and mittens. Some of the material is donated - many wollens are hand-knitted in doners' homes - most goods are purchased.
The packages - marked "don't open 'till Christmas!" - are delivered to the captains of ships calling at San Francisco Bay Area ports. The packages become a central part of the ship-board holiday celebrations on hundreds of freighters, tankers and military cargo ships spending the Christmas holidays at sea.
A modern ocean-going ship's average crew size is 23 people. Seafarers on American ships work two months and then are off for two months. Seafarers aboard foreign-flagged vessels are usually required by contract to work eight to twelve months before getting time off.
Last year, our Christmas at Sea program was expanded to include truckers hauling freight to and from Bay Area docks and U.S. inland points. More than 100 truckers who were on the road between Christmas and the New Year received a package from the Seafarers Club.
Left to right: Bob Middleton, Bay Area chaplain for the Anglican Church's Mission to Seafarers; Father Paul Devine with the Roman Catholic Apostleship of the Sea ministry; and AOS volunteers Terri Kinzel, Les Taylor, Marge Taylor and Mary Oliver. Father Devine holds a box of the holiday "goody bags" packed at the Oakland Seafarers Club.