With need still great, family embarks on fifth trip to help Puerto Rico

- A ship loaded with donations for Puerto Rico is about to leave Port Tampa Bay. Even though it is the crew's fifth trip, the people gather donations say the need is as great as ever.

The crew of the Glory -- Shawna Downs, her husband, James, and their three kids -- has been living on the ship while making supply runs to and from the hurricane-ravaged island.

Half of the boat is home for the Downs family.

"It had 65 seats. We took it all out and now it's like a living room," Shawna said.

The other half is why they spend six days at sea on a 140-foot ship loaded with shipping containers for the 1,100-mile journey.

"We have carried a lot of boxes that have little messages like 'We love you, Puerto Rico,'" Shawna said.

The Downs started Good Samaritan Shipping Ministries in 2016. They bought the Glory after Puerto Rico was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

"They are going on nine months [since the hurricane]," said Downs. "Some places still don't have power. You drive down the road and there are power lines held up with rope."

On Tuesday, goods were loaded from Port Tampa Bay onto the ship's 2,000 square-foot deck ahead of its fifth trip. 

This time, the 89-ton ship is carrying medical supplies, building materials, and 340 mattresses.

"There are still people sleeping on moldy mattresses nine months after the storm," said Downs.

As usual, they will spend two weeks onshore getting supplies to people who need them.

"We do this out of a heart for service," said Downs. "We really want to teach our children to serve and to look for their neighbor first. There is no better way to do that than to live it."

The Downs' have battled mechanical hiccups, like last night when an anchor wouldn't work, or last month, when they were stranded in Houston without fuel.

"There are days when it is really hard," said Downs. "And we are sad and we miss friends and family and we want to climb a tree. But because we are doing it as a family, that helps us."

They are motivated by the recent study that revealed Maria killed 4,500 people, many times more than the government's official total.

"Everyone that has been actively involved knew the number was much higher than 68," said Downs. "Especially with the number of bedridden people, people who don't have access to medical care, I wasn't really surprised. I was broken-hearted."

They rely on donations to support the $16,000-worth of fuel it takes to get there and back. They will be leaving Tampa by the end of the week.

On Wednesday, June 6, they will be hosting a meet-and-greet for anyone interested in learning more or supporting the program.

The meet-and-greet will be at Italian Kitchen Cafe, located at  6915 US Hwy 301 S, Riverview, FL.

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