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San Diego Union-Tribune

Holland America passengers from San Diego and around the world raise $450K for medical aid in Ukraine

By Lori Weisberg,

Holland America cruise passengers raised $450,000 for Ukrainian relief over the last year, as they vacationed in destinations around the world. A check was presented to the nonprofit Direct Relief at San Diego's B Street Terminal where the Koningsdam was docked. (Lori Weisberg/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Holland America guests boarding cruise ships bound for Mexico, Alaska and beyond over the last year had a chance to do a bit more than sightsee, play bingo and imbibe poolside cocktails. They also raised nearly a half-million dollars in medical aid for residents of war-torn Ukraine.

In a formal presentation Tuesday at downtown San Diego's B Street Pier, the cruise line presented a $450,000 check to Santa Barbara-based Direct Relief, a nonprofit charity that has delivered 1,200 tons of medical aid since the war began early last year.

The money was raised over the last 10 months during 5K walks held on every cruise in the line's 11-ship fleet, which reached destinations as far as Europe and Australia. Passengers had the option to make a $25 donation to participate in the fundraising walks known as On Deck for a Cause.

"That represents incredible generosity by our guests and we hope it will make a difference in the incredible task of helping refugees from Ukraine," said Michael Smith, senior vice president of guest experience for Holland America, standing directly in front of the line's Koningsdam cruise ship. "We are standing here in the beautiful port of San Diego, in part, because the humanitarian organization Direct Relief is headquartered here in California, in part because the port is such an important partner in our ability to allow guests from this part of the country to see the world from their doorstep, and also because San Diegans and Californians have shown their generosity for this campaign."

Californians, he added, make up nearly 15 percent of the cruise line's global guest base.

Over an 11-month period, Direct Relief has provided relief valued at more than $720 million not only for people who have had to flee their homes and need medications for chronic medical conditions but also for hospitals in Ukraine and elsewhere that need ambulances and funding to sustain their operations, said Heather Bennett, vice president of partnerships and philanthropy for Direct Relief.

"This contribution from the Holland America line and its guests is just so meaningful," she said, "and we’re so humbled by the generosity of everyone and really grateful that we were able to participate in this."

The 5K fundraising effort was not Holland America's first gesture of goodwill. Not long after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, the Dutch government chartered the Holland America ship, the Volendam, in Rotterdam for six months to become a temporary home for displaced Ukrainians. Three cruises had to be canceled in order to accommodate the refugees.

Holland America, which was founded in the Netherlands, currently operates the most sailings out of San Diego and home ports there for the fall-to-spring cruise season.

During the current cruise season, which ends in May, the line will make a total of 28 home port calls in San Diego, which translates into as many as 62,000 passengers. The cruise line forecasts that for the following season ending in 2024, it will make the same number of voyages with up to 64,500 passengers on board.

"If San Diego continues to perform how it's performed so far, I can foresee increasing the number of sailings," Holland America president Gus Antorcha said Tuesday in an interview.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .

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