Seamen find holiday hospitality at Port of Wilmington

Many crew members onboard ships docking at the Port of Wilmington will be thousands of miles from home during the holidays. Staff and volunteers at the port’s Seamen’s Center are making sure they are remembered with the “Christmas at Sea” program.

The center is in a small building on Port property. It is open all year, and serves as a place for seafarers to visit, purchase snacks or toiletries, watch TV, use the computer to check e-mail, or to make phone calls to family back home.

Many of these workers spend nine months at a time at sea.

Seamen’s Center Director Joan Lyons says the Wilmington location is part of a worlwide network of about 800 similar facilities. About 10,000 seamen are served by the center every year.

“We’re really here to hold lives together,” Lyons says. “We’re really here to help see that their life is as good as it can be as they’re away from their families.”

Seamen’s Center staff also offer transportation free of charge to visiting seamen for additional shopping needs or to a nearby post office to mail packages back home.

This month, packages are stacking up in the first-floor rooms of the center, as it attempts to deliver gift boxes to every visiting sea worker during the month of December.

Lyons says the package, known as a “ditty box,” contains toiletries, candy, gum, stationery, and a hat and scarf, usually hand knit – “anything to make their holiday a little brighter.”

“Typically we’ll find that this is the only present they’ll open,” Lyons adds.

Schools, churches, service organizations and youth groups have held collection drives to benefit Christmas at Sea. “They understand this need. They understand the isolation these men feel,” Lyons says.

“We really are ambassadors.”

The Seamen’s Center is open seven days a week, and is always looking for more volunteers. For additional information, call 302-575-1300

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