NORFOLK, Va. — A Norfolk ministry that serves mariners from around the world is selling its house because of financial issues.
Since the 1960s, the International Seamen’s House served as a home away from home for Filipino, Greek, Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Sri Lankan crew members of ships. But they rarely come to the house anymore and its owner is struggling to pay expenses, said Sylvia Butler, president of the society’s board.
Donations have declined in recent years and the ministry’s bank account has dropped to about $10,000. Its expenses are about $3,000 a month.
Polly Glassburner, who has worked in the ministry for about 30 years, said it is difficult to persuade donors to support a program that helps visitors from other countries when there are many local needs.
In the past, crews had enough down time to leave their ships and visit the house. But changes in the global shipping business have reduced the turnaround time for ships, Butler said.
Crew members’ movement also has been restricted by increased security since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Since crew members can’t get to the house, the ministry’s volunteers take the ministry to the ships while they’re in port.
Volunteers tend to the crews of about four ships a week, offering them magazines and phone cards and, for those with visas, shopping runs to local stores.
One volunteer, George Schmidt, said the ministry’s mission to seafarers will continue, although it no longer will have the house. Butler said the ministry is considering renting space from a local church so it can continue.