Mount Pleasant Magazine Nov/Dec 2023

53 | | The holiday season can be an especially lonely time for the crews of the many ships that visit Charleston SPA Ports throughout the year. As one of the top 10 largest international ports in the country, Charleston’s loading docks are bustling with activity as ships hailing from places like India, China, Russia, Ukraine, the Philippines and other countries stop by our ports, serving as the often-invisible hands and feet of international commerce. Crews visiting Charleston’s port during the weeks leading up to Christmas will receive a special surprise, thanks to the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society. For the past 20 years, the Christmas at Sea program has provided thousands of giftwrapped boxes filled with much needed toiletry items, fun games, books, candy and other surprises. Many also include a handwritten Christmas card filled with encouragement that lingers long after the holiday season ends. Clark Cromwell, administrator of the Charleston Port and Seafarers Society, is passionate about the impact these gifts can have on the men and women working at sea. “For a lot of these guys, they wouldn’t have anything on Christmas Day,” he said. On many ships, the gifts are often embargoed in the captain’s quarters until Christmas. “Come Christmas Eve, I start getting pictures of decorated dining areas on the ships with a fake christmas tree and a roast pig with all the fixings… and there will be the men standing there with their boxes with big smiles.” The average crew has about 25 members, and Clark and his team of more than 50 volunteers work together to deliver the gift boxes to the bottom of the gangway when the ships arrive in port. There’s some enthusiasm there, shared Clark. “The guys know they’ll be getting these gifts.” Even international crew members who don’t celebrate Christmas are often profoundly impacted by the organization’s kindness. “They are all happy to get the boxes,” reflected Clark. “I think we deliver just as many boxes to members of the Hindu or Muslim faith, but we’re a Christian organization so we’re happy to just love everybody.” There were over 3,600 gift boxes distributed at the ports last year, and the organization anticipates exceeding those numbers this Christmas. Grace Church Cathedral and the International Transport Workers Federation along with NAMMA (North American Maritime Ministry Association) will provide the 3,600 empty boxes. The boxes are then distributed to many area churches, local businesses and charitable organizations. Clark has witnessed the impact the Christmas at Sea program has, not only for the recipients of the gifts, but also for those who take the time to fill the boxes. “I think there’s a real value in a family activity where you go out and shop for somebody you don’t even know, and might never hear from, but you still do it,” asserted Clark. “It is part of the Christmas spirit we always talk about. It is a big return to the families that do this, and it’s a special event for them to do every year.” The Charleston Port and Seafarers Society has been Casting Joy! Charleston Port and Seafarers Society delivers Christmas at Sea BY HEATHER ROSE ARTUSHIN holiday cheer The Christmas at Sea program provides over 3,600 wrapped gifts each year to seafarers from all over the world, thanks to Charleston Port and Seafarers Society volunteers and supporters. Photo by Mark Staff Photographer.