Chief Steward Ingra Maddox described the essence of the union’s yearly participation in Santa’s Castle as well as anyone.
“It feels good to give back to the people that are protecting us,” said the Seafarer, who comes from a military family. “We’ve always got a ton of stuff for the children, and that’s what it’s all about: the children.”
Since 2007, Tacoma-area Seafarers have donated holiday toys and other gifts to U.S. military families (primarily E-4 and below) from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington, and from other bases. The gifts are sent through a private, nonprofit organization named Santa’s Castle. The union also hosts a holiday luncheon (typically in mid-to- late December) for military personnel, Seafarers, employees from the nonprofit group, and other guests.
In 2019, SIU members, officials and staff as well as other contributors donated a little more than $9,000 in toys and additional gifts. The items were loaded into Santa’s Castle vans outside the hiring hall after the luncheon on Dec. 20.
Anita Vargo, vice president of purchasing for Santa’s Castle, said, “The Seafarers are so amazing every year. They go above and beyond to help us and our soldiers. We look forward to being with them just to have lunch and get to know the men and women who work there. It’s really nice. We love those guys. They’re wonderful and the SIU is a great organization.”
During remarks at the luncheon, SIU Assistant Vice President Joe Vincenzo said, “This program and this time of year are not about any one of us in particular. It’s about the gift of giving and being grateful for what we have.”
A military veteran, Vincenzo also pointed out the long, mutually respectful relationship between the U.S. Merchant Marine and our armed forces.
“The logistical support that the U.S. Merchant Marine gives to our military is as vital an asset to their ability to project and sustain power abroad as it is to our homeland, economic and national security,” he stated. “Our history is long and storied and each of us has it on our shoulders to carry on that tradition as you are here today. We are grateful for our military – the service that they perform each and every day. Today is our day to say thank you.”
He added that since the union started participating in Santa’s Castle, Seafarers have chipped in with around $100,000 worth of items.
Chief Cook Charlie Atkins volunteered to help set up and run the luncheon.
“The whole thing went great,” he said. “I do it every year when I’m home. As union members, we’re always trying to help anyone who needs it. I know this is for a good cause, and everyone was happy and smiling. Joe does a lot to make sure everybody’s on the same page. It was excellent.”
Retired Recertified Steward Shawn Fujiwara said he has participated “from day one, and it’s a reflection of why I’m proud to be part of the SIU family and the Tacoma hall.”
Always a good sport, Fujiwara wore an elf costume to the luncheon. He said this year’s event lived up to its lofty precedent.
“It’s important to help Santa’s Castle and their mission to support our local military families who would not otherwise have as many gifts to share on Christmas,” he added. “I call it the magic of Christmas – giving from your heart and knowing it’ll brighten the spirits of children. Also, Joe Vincenzo is a powerhouse behind the scenes, making sure the Tacoma hall always gets revved up for this.”