Local Kiama resident and teacher, Nicole Dillon could bare it no longer. She wanted to do something to cheer up the 1100 crew members stuck in isolation on board Ruby Princess at Port Kembla.

So she rallied the help of the local community and businesses in Illawarra and donated 1200 gift bags filled with Australian goodies like Tim Tams, chocolates, chips and Vegemite to be distributed to each crew member.

“This gift of friendship is a small gesture to help keep their spirits up,” says Mrs Dillon in an interview with Cruise Passenger.

“My husband was the former Harbour Master of Port Kembla and we know what it means to be away from home and family for a long time.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19, the future must be so uncertain for the crew left on board the ship. They are scared and frightened of COVID which they can’t see and they are uncertain who has the virus and who hasn’t.

“The publicity they were getting must have been devastating for them and I saw an opportunity to show them we cared and supported them during these troubled times. I just wanted to put a positive spin to their visit to Australia.”

So she started a Facebook campaign and it took off.

In less than a week, she got the support of the NSW Port Authority, Kollaras Group of Companies, the Port Kembla Mission to Seafarers and charity Good360 founder Alison Covington who donated $70,000 worth of mostly Australian products.

“We tried to encourage people to send in some Aussie type things so it was something a little bit different that they wouldn’t normally have on board,” Mrs Dillon says.

The gift bags also had personal notes from the community and children’s drawings.

The crew were so touched by the gifts that they immediately wanted to reciprocate and give something back to the community. Now each crew member will donate $10 to the Wollongong Emergency Housing charity which provides emergency housing to domestic violence victims.

“How amazing is that?” Mrs Dillon says.

Kollaras delivered the 1200 gift boxes to the crew.

“We provided the logistics and donated the boxes, pallets and truck to deliver the 1200 boxes to the ship’s crew,” says marketing manager Georgia Kollaras.

“For years, our company has been supplying wine and alcohol to cruise lines including Princess ships. So we know how to navigate the delivery of supplies in Port Kembla,” Ms Kollaras adds.

After the crew received their gifts of friendship, they gathered at 8pm on the ship’s balconies and clapped their appreciation to the local community.

“This is the stuff that makes the hard times worthwhile and restores faith in humanity. At 8 pm tonight, I stood on our apartment balcony to clap along with those who do religiously on the Ruby Princess, in support of the wonderful people in this world who work hard for others every day,” Ms Kollaras said on her post two days ago.

More than 600 COVID cases and 20 deaths across the country have been linked to the Ruby Princess.