A crew of American sailors who found themselves stranded in Montreal because of ice in the St. Lawrence River decided to make the best of their unexpected shore leave and lent a hand at a local homeless shelter.

The crew of the newly commissioned USS Little Rock left Buffalo, N.Y. on Dec. 16 to head to Mayport, Fla. through Halifax. But the sudden cold snap just before Christmas led to the early formation of ice on the St. Lawrence Seaway, forcing the ship to come to a halt in Montreal on Christmas Eve.

With the ice unlikely to break up until the end of March, the 70-member crew has been stuck in the Port of Montreal with little else to do besides practise mission training exercises.

So when Nancy Dossous, the volunteer co-ordinator at the local Welcome Hall Mission, heard about the crew, she decided to reach out.

“We saw this as a great opportunity. We have over 3,000 people that benefit from the food they receive for free every week here at the Marche Bonne Acceuil. So I thought sailors that are stuck here, let's see if we can make something happen,” she told CTV Montreal.

On Friday, a few of the sailors arrived to help unload boxes and serve food to some of those who come to the Welcome Hall market to stock up on groceries.

The sailors want to keep a low profile while in Montreal and were not able to do interviews, but Dossous says her team gave them a warm welcome.

Sailors have always been close to Dossous’s heart; her own father was a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

“So as an American, I was super-excited to bring these American sailors here, but also as a Montrealer, I'm really excited to show them how we reach out to those in need, how we respond to immigrants, how we respond to families living under the poverty line," she said.

The mission is always in need of volunteers to help with sorting and distributing food and clothing -- particularly during the cold winter months.

“Sometimes, you feel like you need a small army to get this done -- which is great because we have the Navy today,” she said.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Denise Roberts