The latest chapter in the union’s rich tradition of supporting America’s military members eloquently was penned during the 2016 Christmas holiday season at the Port of Tacoma, Washington.
And some chapter it was, as Seafarers continued their philanthropic practice of backing the annual Santa’s Castle Project. Santa’s Castle is a nonprofit charity organization that’s dedicated to providing Christmas gifts to military families, primarily those in the rank of E-4 and below, who are experiencing financial hardship. Seafarers last year made donations to the project that approached the $10,000 mark.
In addition to making cash contributions, mariners donated a virtual boatload of toys and other gifts to the all-volunteer endeavor including: 25 bicycles; two motorized Mini Coopers; Hot Wheels; dozens of dolls; musical instruments; remote-controlled cars and helicopters; books; board games and much more. According to SIU Port Agent Joe Vincenzo, who coordinates the union’s participation in the undertaking, Tacoma Seafarers to date have given upwards of $75,000 to Santa’s Castle and to the men and women of our armed forces, particularly those stationed at nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Joe and his team are amazing in terms of helping us in our efforts,” said Santa’s Castle Purchasing Vice President Anita Vargo, who has been with the project for the past six of its 21-year existence. “They consistently make donations that are in the $10,000 to $12,000 range.
“If it were not for them and their generosity, I really don’t know where the project would be,” she continued. “Last year we were really falling short of our goals in terms of having an adequate supply of toys available to donate to the military families here. It was their (Tacoma Seafarers) donations that put us over the top and saved the day.
“We always look forward to receiving the backing and support of the Seafarers,” Vargo concluded. “They truly are an amazing group of men and women.”
SA Rupert Henry is one of the mariners to whom Vargo was referring. A naturalized American citizen, Henry was born in Jamaica. He donned the SIU colors in 2006 and calls Tacoma his home port.
“I think Santa’s Castle is a very good thing because it helps soldiers who receive low wages because of their ranks provide for their kids during the holidays,” he said. “Although I was not blessed with any kids of my own, I still enjoy giving. It’s a pleasure for me to give whenever I can afford it.
“I made up my mind to spend at least $600 toward this project each year,” Henry continued. “So far, I’ve given six bicycles to the project each year since its inception. The only time I have not supported the project is when I am working overseas during the holidays.”
Noting the critical jobs handled by military personnel, Henry continued, “Members of our armed forces help to protect us from all kinds of evil in the world, and the cost of freedom is not cheap. I appreciate what they do for all of us. Like them, I’m a part of this nation, and as an American Merchant Marine, I’ll do anything for it including fighting and dying if necessary.
“Whatever I can do to support the armed forces and its cause, I’ll gladly do it,” Henry concluded.
Reflecting on the role Seafarers played in the 2016 iteration of Santa’s Castle, Vincenzo said he was proud of the fashion in which his brothers and sisters stepped up to the challenge. “Our toy drive and holiday luncheon is the best time of year for us here in Tacoma,” he said. “This year, not unlike other years, we planned and portioned our luncheon menu and converted our business-as-usual hiring hall into a festive venue where we got to thank the armed forces and give back to our community and in particular to the men and women of Joint Base Lewis-McChord and their families. You can never say thank you enough, especially to our war fighters and peace keepers.”
Vincenzo concluded by noting that he had many people to thank for making the most recent Santa’s Castle experience the huge success that it was.
“I want to thank Crowley and in particularly Director of Labor Relations Lee Egland and Captain Scott Craig for again partnering with us and for making the trip down to join in the festivities,” he said. “They also brought along three more bicycles.”
Vincenzo then singled out members for recognition including SA Henry QMED Electrician Kevin McCagh, who donated two motorized Mini Coopers.
“I [also] want to thank Shore Gang Bosun Ken Clinton in particular for making cash donations and for bringing in a total of six bicycles. Recently retired shore gang crew members AB Dana Cella and Jimmy McParland also deserve credit,” he said.
In addition to the foregoing members, Vincenzo said a host of others also made donations, and volunteered their time in a number of other important areas including shopping for toys and assisting during the luncheon. “To each and every one of them, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart,” he said.