Seattle Seafarers Center
Ditty Bags: A Gift for All Seasons
Each holiday season, the Seattle Seafarers’ Center has a tradition of assembling and distributing “ditty bags” to seafarers - gift bags which contain an assortment of essential toiletries, a hand-knitted hat, and other fun items and snacks.
From the week after Thanksgiving until early January this year, I brought 20-25 ditty bags with me to every ship I visited. On some ship visits, I got to meet several crew members and watch them each excitedly pick out their bag. But on most visits, the chief mate would meet us, thank us for the gifts, and then take them away to a storage room to save until Christmas-time for the crew.
As I often didn’t get to see crew members open their ditty bags, I found myself wondering: Are the items we’re providing actually needed or useful to seafarers? Do they want these gifts?
On January 10th, I finally discovered the answer. Late that afternoon, I set out for a visit to the CMA CGM Loire, a container ship with a mixed crew of Ukrainians and Croatians. I decided not to bring ditty bags with me, since we were almost out of bags, and I didn’t have anyone to help me carry them to the ship. When I boarded the ship, the bosun came to meet me by the gangway, and he asked right away, “Where are the bags?”
I clarified, “Ditty bags? With hats, and toiletries?” Uh oh, I thought, I should have brought some after all.
“Yes,” he said. “We have not gotten any this year.” He went on to explain how the crew looks forward to receiving these gifts from seafarers centers every holiday season. He shared how much they needed warm winter clothes and hats and new toiletries. He also shared that the crew was disappointed they weren’t able to properly celebrate the holidays while at sea. He was hoping they would finally receive gifts in Seattle to uplift them.
I told the bosun I would be back in 30 minutes. Then, I drove back to our Center and loaded up the van with 20 ditty bags, the last of our stash. The bosun had a great smile on his face when I returned with the bags, and was excited to be able to distribute them to his crew and bring some joy to their day.
It was meaningful for me to hear first-hand how ditty bags both provide essential items to seafarers, and also give seafarers something to hope for and uplift them during the holidays.
This spring, we plan to give more ditty bags to seafarers. This will be a first for us. These small tokens of appreciation can make a huge difference in the lives of seafarers. We also hope those gifts will bring some extra comfort for seafarers whose families are caught in the midst of conflict back home.
Consider making a gift to support seafarers and this new effort. Click here to make a donation. Your presence, prayers, and financial support make this vital ministry with seafarers possible.
Assistant Port Chaplain Seattle Seafarers' Center