SEATTLE -- At least once a day, a group of visitors arrives in Seattle after spending weeks in pretty harsh conditions. They’re mostly invisible, except to a dedicated group of volunteers who’ve made it their mission to take care of these guests.
“We’re called, especially at Christmas, to feed poverty of the spirit and hunger of the soul, and these seafarers surely have that,” said Ken Hawkins, executive director of the Mission to Seafarers in Seattle.
The organization looks out for thousands of foreign ship crew members who spend months shuttling between the continents in cramped quarters. They dock for a few hours in an unfamiliar place far from home and often cannot leave the ships to shop or go for a walk.
“They have this tremendous sense of isolation, of being alone,” said Hawkins.
Mission volunteers will board cargo ships at the Port of Seattle and deliver hand-sewn fabric bags stuffed with toiletries, candy, small gifts, and hand-knitted yarn hats.
During warmer months, they stock the ship’s kitchen with fresh produce grown in the Mission to Seafarers garden.
At the Mission to Seafarers center, tucked beneath the West Seattle Bridge, crew members who get shore leave can have a video chat with their families.
“We have had a few fathers who have seen their kids for the first time,” said Hilary Zedlitz, assistant port chaplain for the mission.
Though it is a Christian organization, the Mission to Seafarers helps crew members of all backgrounds and beliefs.
“We asked seafarers why they do what they do (and) the number one reason is always, I want to send my kids to a better school, I’m saving money for a house, I’m trying to take care of my family,” said Hawkins.