On The River

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The people who work on this country's waterways don’t get a day off for Christmas. They have to stay busy, delivering goods that could be keeping you warm right now, or could be going into your Christmas dinner. Never fear though. Santa’s sleigh does make deliveries to them, thanks to some helpers. Reed Galin reports.

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Locator: near Paducah, Kentucky 

It’s another steel gray winter day on the Ohio river.

Mark Holman / Towboat Pilot: “It’s a different life, not everybody can do it.”

Towboat pilot Mark Holman and his mates are pushing 10-thousand tons of coal down the Ohio. They started in Pittsburgh, a thousand miles and a week ago. Near Paducah, Kentucky they take on more barges, full of grain.

Mark Holman: We’re moving a lot of product that people use in their everyday lives…coal or grain.

On the river a month at a time, they can become invisible men… many of whom will not be home for Christmas.

Kate Johnston / Member, Broadway United Methodist Church: “We never see them. They’re bringing stuff to us so we should be sending things to them.”

A network of river-friendly churches makes sure towboat crews are not forgotten.

Ann Mills / Seamen’s Church Institute: “I tell folks that not only do we wrap them in warmth, we really literally wrap them in God’s love.”

Christmas care packages will be delivered to more than five thousand crewmen from The Northeast to New Orleans.  

Towboat crew member: “I’ve got a new baby. This’ll be her first Christmas so this one will be especially tough for me.”

Folks here at Broadway United Methodist Church in Paducah live within the river economy, but a lot of participants do not.

Natsound (lady points to box): “It’s from a school in New Jersey.”

The message is not just “Merry Christmas.” It is also that this network of is available to help any time, with any problem.

Towboat crew member:  “It’s nice to know there’s other people out in the world thinking about us.”

The “stuff” in those Christmas boxes is fun to receive, but the care put into them is the real gift…when the only light you can see across a somber horizon is just another towboat passing in the cold December night.


There is a similar effort made for mariners who work on the open seas over the holidays. It's all organized by the Seamen's Church, a ministry with supporters from all denominations.

For more information about the Seamen’s Church, contact: