Seafarers Joyously Donate to Military Families


February 2015


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For SIU members in the Pacific Northwest, giving back to the community is a way of life – and that’s never more evident than during the winter holiday season, when they take part in an annual toy drive benefiting U.S. military families.


The all-volunteer project is called Santa’s Castle, and SIU participation has steadily grown for the last several years. Through Santa’s Castle, Christmas gifts are donated to families of enlisted military personnel (primarily E-4 and below) who are experiencing financial hardship.


During the most recent holidays, Tacoma Seafarers donated more than $7,000 worth of toys for military kids ranging in age from newborn to late teens. The SIU also hosted military personnel from nearby Fort Lewis and Santa’s Castle officials for a hearty luncheon at the union hall that was attended by more than 120 people.


“The Seafarers are one of the most generous groups we deal with,” said Lisa Bennett, president of Santa’s Castle. “We really appreciate how they come out every year and show us so much love and support. They are a wonderful group of people.”


She added that when she first met Port Agent Joe Vincenzo and the other local SIU officials, employees and members five years ago, she wasn’t sure what to expect. “But then you get there and it’s so moving,” Bennett said. “They’re good people and their hearts are really in it. I could give the Seafarers love all day long.”


Anita Vargo, who’s in charge of purchasing for Santa’s Castle (they receive cash donations in addition to toys), also commended the SIU’s efforts. “I thought they did an amazing job, as always,” she stated. “Every year they do a great job supporting the troops and their families. The parents are very appreciative and the people at the luncheon are really nice – I like talking with them.”


Vincenzo, who spearheads the SIU’s participation, said the most recent effort went especially well. “Having volunteered at various points throughout my adult life, heading up our toy drive and hosting our annual holiday party is an honor and a privilege, especially because it benefits lower ranking enlisted military personnel,” he said. “It is our chance here in Tacoma to say thank you to the men and women in uniform and to tell them how proud we are of their service.”


The port agent said this year’s donations included 20 bicycles, dozens of remotecontrolled cars and helicopters, a dozen more musical instruments including guitars and keyboards, dolls, board games, books, snow shoes and trekking poles, and much more.


After the luncheon (which featured a wide range of goodies including ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and cranberries), Vincenzo introduced the guests and briefly spoke about the U.S. Merchant Marine’s support of U.S. military efforts around the world.


He also credited the many SIU participants including Administrative Assistant Brenda Flesner, Safety Director Ben Anderson, Patrolman Warren Asp, SA Rupert Henry, Chief Cook Sal Deguzman, and DEU Hamid Shahbain. “I’m happy to be a part of it and glad we do it every year,” said Deguzman. “It’s a great thing that we’re able to give something to the kids, especially during Christmastime. We make them happy also.”


Chief Cook Gary Loftin said he noticed an outstanding amount of participation this year. “Everybody really chipped in,” he said. “I’m really impressed with how well it went, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s Santa’s Castle. I live in a military community, and they appreciate all this stuff. The gratitude is evident.”


AB Dana Cella, another regular participant, said, “I think it went fabulously, as it has every year. It’s great for the kids, and what better cause can you have?”


He added, “Joe puts forth a big effort for this project. He’s a stand-up guy and he’s behind it all.”


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