Seafarers Give Back To Their Communities

Toy Drives Successful in Tacoma, Ft. Lauderdale


February 2011

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Seafarers celebrated the holidays with each other and their families in halls all across the country. In addition to the festivities, several halls, including the Tacoma, Wash., and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., facilities, used the occasion to give back to their communities by organizing toy drives.

 

More than 120 Seafarers and their families attended the annual Christmas party at the SIU hall in Tacoma on Dec. 14. The spirit of giving was alive and well at the party, which also included the hall’s fourth annual toy drive that for the last two years has benefited the families of enlisted military personnel through Santa’s Castle.

 

“I can say that working alongside Seafarers here in Tacoma, whether painting a house or two through the Paint Tacoma Beautiful program or organizing a toy drive, has been a tremendous privilege,” said Tacoma Port Agent Joe Vincenzo. “There is as much to be proud of as there is to be thankful for this year because of our opportunity to give back.”

 

The local toy drive generated nearly $3,500 in donations to Santa’s Castle. In addition, Alaska Tanker Company (ATC) AB Tawnia Stucker took the initiative and collected donations while she was aboard the SIU-crewed Alaskan Explorer. Also, Seafarers from the Global Sentinel contributed money for the project.

 

ATC matched the funds that Stucker collected for a total of $1,440. The total donations amounted to nearly $5,000, all of which went to buy toys for the children of men and women currently serving our country in the armed forces.

 

Seafarers not only made cash donations, but also picked out toys themselves. The scene at a local Tacoma toy store was a memorable one, according to Vincenzo.

 

“The employees didn’t know what to make of us at first, until they saw us with a half-dozen, overflowing shopping carts at the checkout,” said Vincenzo. “It was a very proud moment for me, and one that I’ll not forget.”

 

With the uncertain and rocky state of the economy, some worried that the toy drive might have floundered. And, in fact, the fundraising got off to a bit of a slow start. But Seafarers took the call to provide enlisted service members’ children with toys to heart and made the fourth annual drive the most successful one yet, proving once again the value that Seafarers put on giving back and helping others.

 

“It’s really heartwarming to see all those toys out there,” said Recertified Steward Scott Opsahl. “We had a great amount of participation this year and it was great, for me, to have a chance to participate.”

 

“It feels good when you know all the toys you see are going to children that really need them,” said AB Sam Kassem. “I was so happy doing it. I’ve been participating for the last couple years and I’m ready to keep doing it again and again.”

 

In addition to the SIU personnel, several other members of the community attended the Tacoma gathering, including Maj. Paul Robinson of Fort Lewis and other enlisted men and women from the military facility. This was not only a chance for Seafarers to thank them for their service, but also to introduce themselves as partners in the vital sealift supply chain. SIU members sail aboard numerous military support ships that regularly move crucial materiel around the world in support of the U.S. Armed Forces.

 

Across the country, another SIU hall was doing its part to spread the holiday cheer. Seafarers in Ft. Lauderdale organized a toy drive of their own, this one benefiting the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. The toy drive was organized in conjunction with the Gulf Stream Chapter of the American Merchant Marine Veterans in Ft. Lauderdale.

 

More than 50 Seafarers took time away from their vacations to organize and implement their toy drive, benefitting underprivileged children in South Florida. The toy drive, which coincided with the hall’s annual holiday barbecue, was attended not only by Seafarers and their families but also by members of the Marine Corps stationed at neighboring Hialeah, Fla.

 

The combined efforts of Seafarers and the U.S. Merchant Marine Veterans netted 151 toys for needy children.

 

Port Agent Kris Hopkins was proud of everyone’s commitment to service during the holidays.

 

“It’s great when we have an opportunity to help out others that are less fortunate in a time when help is needed for a lot of people,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we’re about. This was our first year participating and I believe it’ll go even better next year.”

 

Both halls are looking forward to continuing this tradition of good times, good food, and giving back to their communities in the years to come.


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Tacoma Toy Drive

SIU Port Agent Joe Vincenzo (center) receives a plaque from Maj. Paul Robinson of Ft. Lewis, Wash., honoring SIU members’ efforts. Looking on at left is Brenda Flesner, secretary at the Tacoma hall.

 

Chow Line

SIU members, U.S. Merchant Marine veterans and members of the U.S. Marine Corps stand in the chow line at the Ft. Lauderdale holiday barbecue.

 

Carlos Noriega

Seafarer Carlos Noriega donates toys to Santa's Castle in Tacoma.