In an average year, more than 60,000 merchant seafarers sail into Charleston Harbor.

Many of them are from foreign countries, working their way around the world to support families they don't see for months at a time.

It's a lonely life out there at sea, so it's good to know that there are some people out there who welcome these folks to town, and make them feel at home.

The Charleston Port and Seafarers Society is an 11-year-old nonprofit carrying on a tradition that is two centuries old. They help these sailors get around town or get in touch with their families. If they want, society volunteers will even pray with them.

Yes, the Seafarers Society is an ecumenical Christian organization, but they aren't out there to convert anyone. They only want to help.

“I don't know a better way to be an ambassador for our country,” says Father Len Williams, executive director of the society.

See, that's what Christian charity is supposed to be about.

Christmas at sea

The society has centers set up for these seafarers at the Wando and Columbus Street terminals.

These men can come in, use the phone, use the computer, maybe even Skype with their families. Tom Heffernan, a member of the Society, says it's a heartwarming thing to see these men actually get to talk, face to face — or screen to screen — with a wife or children they haven't seen in months.

Williams has seen these men using Skype to see their sons or daughters, born in their absence, for the first time.

The group also has a couple of vans to take these guys to Walmart, because they invariably want to hit the Walmart. Heffernan has even given sailors a tour of the town.

These are the people who justify that most polite city title.

This year, as they have done for a long time, the Seafarers Society is running its Christmas at Sea project. Basically, they give out boxes to be filled with things that seafarers might need: sunglasses, shaving cream, razors, sun block, maybe magazines. They ask you to put in a personal note or prayer, and wrap it like a Christmas present. It might cost $13 to do this.

The society gives these boxes to ship captains while they are in port, and the gifts are distributed to men at sea on Christmas day.

“I can't tell you how much it's appreciated, and it doesn't take that much,” Heffernan said.

Everybody pitch in

The Seafarers Society is a great example of people doing good deeds simply because it is a nice thing to do.

It would be a much better world if more people followed the lead of these folks and did things just for the sake of helping someone out, no matter their nationality, race or culture.

So help these folks out. To get a box or two to fill for the Christmas at Sea project, call 843-200-9745 and they will walk you through it.

Heffernan is right. It doesn't take much effort, but it will mean a lot to someone.

And that's what the season is supposed to be all about.

Reach Brian Hicks at or read his blog at