Saturday, November 15, 2008

Christmas Shoe Boxes for Seafarers

A few years ago, the place where I worked participated in gathering Christmas shoe boxes for seafarers. At first, I had no idea what they were talking about, but when they explained, I thought it was a terrific idea.

Basically, Houston has a seaport that's served by international cargo ships, many of which are in port on or around the holidays. The seafarers themselves are not always allowed to leave the port area, I assume due to immigration and customs rules (and I'm sure money and transportation are also issues). So, the Ministry to the Port of Houston maintains two centers with amenities such as convenience stores, recreation (ping pong, air hockey, table games, television, etc.), prepaid international phone cards, books, magazines, etc.

And at Christmastime, they collect shoe boxes filled with small items that the seafarers may find useful or entertaining -- I guess we could call them "shoe box stuffers" instead of stocking stuffers! They ask for toiletries, gum and hard candy, puzzles and games, stamps, postcards, and more. To donate, you pack a shoebox full of such items and then wrap the entire box as one unit in holiday gift wrap. My husband and I went to the dollar store and had a blast packing a shoe box. The following year, my employer didn't collect shoe boxes to be taken to the port, and I was really sorry, because I'd been saving up little items all year. But it turns out it's OK to just take a shoe box there individually -- it doesn't just have to be part of a group donation drive -- so maybe we'll do that this year.

According to their Christmas 2008 letter, last year they placed 11,225 shoe boxes on board 483 ships from 61 different countries. How cool is that?

If you're in a port city, maybe there's a similar program -- just a cursory search on Google showed that there are seafarer centers in Baltimore and Los Angeles. Or, a homeless shelter may be interested in such a program. They always needs toiletries.

Tomorrow I'll be back with another Esty Sunday post. In the meantime, don't forget that if you use your imagination, stocking stuffers can present a wonderful opportunity to practice the true spirit of giving.

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