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THE annual Christmas hamper drive kicked off over the weekend, with volunteers packing 2000 hampers for seafarers over the festive season at Port Botany.

The idea came to Sydney pilot Michael Kelly four years ago to deliver a Christmas gift bag packed with chocolate and practical items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant to as many visiting seafarers as possible.

Mr Kelly said he first went to his fellow pilots to see if they would contribute to the cause, and then the pilot cutter crew wanted to contribute, then others around the port got wind of the project and volunteered to help.

Putting together the Christmas gift bags for seafarers. Image: Ian Ackerman/DCN

Over the past four years, Mr Kelly and the team have handed out nearly 8000 gift bags to seafarers over the holiday seasons.

After receiving heart-warming feedback from many captains over the years, Mr Kelly is continuing to lead the work, supported by his colleagues at the Port Authority of NSW, the Tas Bull Seafarers Foundation and Stella Maris port chaplain Sister Mary Leahy. Additional supporters of the project include Josephite nuns, the Australian Mariners Welfare Society, Hutchinson Ports, DP World Australia and Patrick wharfies, who have all put some financial backing into the gift hampers to make sure the gift bags are handed to crews calling into port during the festive season.

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Sister Leahy said, “This is to give back to people who are often treated unjustly and who are sometimes vulnerable, it is an opportunity to say thanks. It encourages them to have a bit of a party, no matter what their background is”.

This year the hampers include Christmas cards, which were written by Port Authority staff and their families.

Mr Kelly said Christmas can sometimes be one of the loneliest times of the year for seafarers. So, to see the joy on the seafarers faces when they see our marine pilots coming up the gangway is worth all the effort.

“Marine pilots are the first and last people the ship’s crew see when they enter and exit port – we can make a huge difference to their welfare,” Mr Kelly said.

“The volunteers here help with transport, take books, newspapers, and warm clothes onto the ships, or just sit to talk with the crews and listen to their problems. A simple newspaper becomes so important when you don’t have internet, tv or radio for months at a time.”

Christmas hamper organisers: Bernie Farrelly of the Tas Bull Seafarers Foundation, Sister Mary Leahy of Stella Maris, Sydney pilot Michael Kelly, and Sydney harbour master Myron Fernandes. Image: Ian Ackerman/DCN

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