Santa Visits Sailors Docked Near Vancouver

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VANCOUVER - All Alexander Geraldizo wants for Christmas this year is to be at home, celebrating a magical day with the one-month-old baby daughter he has never met.

Instead the sailor from San Fernando, Cebu in the Philippines will be at sea with aboard the cargo ship Nord Tradition, likely in the Pacific somewhere near Vancouver.

Yet he's thinking his reality won't be nearly as cold, after getting an unexpected burst of cheer from a British Columbia charity that gives Yuletide gifts to weary souls who are far from home.

"I had been asking the office to send me home this Christmas, but there is nothing I can do ... but continue my duties," said Geraldizo in broken English, the vessel's chief engineer, who's been at sea for the past five months.

Receiving an unexpected gift while docked in Vancouver over the weekend gave the father of three children "relief," he said.

"People (are) thinking I am special, all of us are special."

That's exactly the intention of Vancouver's Flying Angel Club, run by the religious Mission to Seafarers group, which has been handing out Christmas gifts for the past 50 years.

This year, the club and a few handfuls of volunteers will present about 2,000 brightly-coloured Christmas bags to men aboard dozens of ships that will dock in the port. The presents were purchased with $9,000 in donations.

"This is a bad time away to be away from family. So we try to be family for them by giving them Christmas presents," said Father John Eason, the Catholic port chaplain of Vancouver, who is helping co-ordinate the drive.

"It takes away a little bit of the pain of the loneliness of being away from loved ones."

While the exchange began on Dec. 17, the volunteers — including someone decked as Santa — will deliver the biggest haul on Christmas Eve day with the help of a donated water taxi and its crew. They expect to deliver 500 gifts to sailors on about 12 ships, though none of the merriment will be expected.

Eason said his crew will head out to ships at anchor over a four-hour period, alerting them to the bounty by radio. The men will come out of their quarters, pouring down the gangway for their surprise. If they have a Christmas tree aboard, they may lay the presents below.

"They're just stunned," he said of their usual reaction.

Sailors' packages hold a host of goodies, everything from personal items like shampoo and perfume to gloves, a scarf and toque and perhaps a small camera, calculator, as well as chocolates and cookies.

"They're stuck here. The commercial wheel turns, it doesn't matter what time of year," Eason said of the men who hail from all over the world, including countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Burma.

"They just happen to be here and they just happen to be here at Christmas time."

Tito Alfafara, captain of the Nord Tradition, said he's only been home with his family at Christmas about five times over the past 15 years.

"It's really very special for us, because someone cared," he said. "We're really very grateful. This is my first time I received a gift."

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