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Shoeboxes for Seafarers give visiting sailors a taste of home for the holidays

HALIFAX – Being away from your family during the holidays is never easy. So a campaign is calling for more support to bring Christmas to dozens of seafarers who stop in Halifax during the festive season.

Cesar Bolotaolo is from the Philippines and recently stopped in to the Mission to Seafarers in Halifax while in port.

Bolotaolo, 45, has been sailing for more than 20 years but said that doesn’t ease the pain during the holidays.

“It’s really hard to be away from [my] family. Very hard. [It’s] Not like you’re working [on] land,” he said.
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“It’s more difficult, especially during the holidays, Christmas.”

The Shoeboxes for Seafarers campaign organized by the Mission to Seafarers and Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is hoping to brighten up the holidays for seafarers like Bolotaolo.

Donations are being collected at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and Mission to Seafarers.
Donations are being collected at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and Mission to Seafarers. Julia Wong/Global News
Donations are being accepted until December 18.
Donations are being accepted until December 18. Julia Wong/Global News
The boxes include everyday items like toothpaste, knitted hats and shampoo.
The boxes include everyday items like toothpaste, knitted hats and shampoo. Julia Wong/Global News

The annual campaign involves wrapping shoeboxes then filling them with toiletries and everyday items, such as toothpaste, deodorant and postcards of Halifax.

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The items may seem mundane but shoebox coordinator Matthew Hughson, who is also a heritage interpreter at the Maritime Museum, said they can be invaluable.

“They might not seem that exciting but they’re things that are really needed,” he said. “You get everything you would need if you were on a ship, either in Halifax harbour or in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.”

Hughson said donations for the shoeboxes are down but he is hoping for more support.

“You’re away from your family and getting a shoebox from someone that they’ve never met shows that there is interest and concern. It also shows they’re remembered as well.”

Some of the shoeboxes are being made at the museum; Hughson said it’s only appropriate for them to be involved.

“The reality is we discuss a lot of aspects of marine history that are in the past. But today, we still have a relationship with the ocean in Halifax. We’re very much a Navy and a commercial port that’s tied to the sea,” he said.

Organizers are also adding knitted items to the shoeboxes this year.

Knitting coordinator Jason Climie, who is also a heritage interpreter at the museum, said the knitted items given to sailors are based in historical tradition.

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“If you go back to the First and Second World War, there was an active volunteer drive to get people to knit things for the Armed Forces and particularly here in Halifax, the Navy,” he said.

Climie said the knitted scarves, hats, gloves and socks can mean the world for seafarers, many of whom come from warmer parts of the world.

“We do have a lot of crew that come from places like the Philippines. The container vessels that come through aren’t here for very long, usually 12 hours, maybe a day, so they don’t really have the opportunity … to go shopping,” he said.

Maggie Whittingham-Lamont, the seafarer coordinator for Mission to Seafarers, helps deliver the shoeboxes to the various ships that pull into the Port of Halifax and said she sees the difference it makes.

“When I can go on board and say ‘Captain, how many crew?’ and he’ll tell me. I’ll say ‘I’ve got Christmas shoeboxes for you’ then we take them on board and you see the visible excitement and you see the mood and the spirit lift,” she said.

For sailors like Bolotaolo, the shoeboxes give something that seafarers don’t often get: a small taste of home.

“We are very thankful for that,” he said.

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If you are interested in knitting items for the shoebox campaign, design patterns can be found here.

The knitted items should be made with machine washable yarns (acrylic, superwash wool and wool blends) and without items such as pom-poms, tassels or fringes, which can be safety hazards.

Donations can be dropped off at the Maritime Museum or the Atlantic or Mission to Seafarers on Terminal Road until Thursday, December 18.

Items that can be donated include hard candies, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, shaving cream, razors, playing cards and postcards or mementos from Halifax.