Holiday traditions vary, but for the past 16 years, one particular philanthropic outreach invariably has been on the SIU’s calendar in Tacoma, Washington.
That mission is known as Santa’s Castle, which produces donations of toys and other presents for U.S. military families (primarily E-4 and below) from Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington, and from other bases.
SIU Assistant Vice President Joe Vincenzo said the union’s participation in 2022 proved as strong as ever, and resulted in more than $8,000 worth of donations. The union also hosted a luncheon Dec. 16 for Santa’s Castle volunteers, SIU members, retirees and their families and friends. Immediately afterward, the donations were loaded into trucks and vans for transportation to the nearby Santa’s Castle facility.
“Seafarers reached deep in their pockets to make this year as special as previous years, bringing Christmas to hundreds of lower-ranking enlisted service members and families and to show their appreciation and thanks to our war fighters and peacekeepers,” Vincenzo said. “And it’s not just our rank-and-file members who participate. Seattle-based Crowley Maritime has consistently contributed to the toy drive over the years and this year was no different. Additionally, Tacoma Seafarers are always inspired to know that SIU executives’ own contributions help get us across the finish line. This truly is a team effort that we can all be proud of, running on 16 consecutive years with a total contribution well north of $100,000. The spirit of giving here remains as strong as ever.”
Santa’s Castle President Donna Handoe said the union’s efforts “always make a big difference. We’re very grateful for the Seafarers – the amazing luncheon, and seeing all those beautiful toys. It goes a long way to supporting our military folks.”
She added that the program had an especially strong year overall, so the abundant donations “let us support even further and wider than we usually do. It’s a beautiful thing to support even more service members.”
AB Samed Kassem donated three bicycles for the most recent iteration of Santa’s Castle, and he has no plans to stop.
“I just like to donate,” Kassem stated. “I’ve been doing this since we started. It’s good to make kids happy. I have kids and I like to see them happy, so I want other kids to also be happy. Whether I’m at home or on a ship, I always donate. It makes me feel good.”
The luncheon proved popular and featured traditional holiday fare including baked ham, roasted turkey breast and numerous side dishes and desserts. Active and retired Seafarers played vital roles with the setup and serving, Vincenzo noted. He credited Chief Steward Nina McFall, Chief Steward Ingra Maddox, Recertified Steward Bob Haggerty, retired Chief Steward Vicky Haggerty, Recertified Steward Amanda Suncin and retired Recertified Steward Scott Opsahl. “We could not pull this off without their help,” Vincenzo said. “I extend a heartfelt vote of thanks to all who made this year’s toy drive and annual holiday luncheon possible.”
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