US Army veteran Jamie Willis, 54, knows the value of a good cane. He served in the Army for eight years and suffered injuries that have since left him completely unable to work.
Willis also knows he’s not the only vet who relies on one to walk around. Come winter, when icy walkways make daily life tough on those vets, canes are even more critical. Thankfully, holiday celebrations are keeping Willis stocked with everything he needs to keep his fellow veterans walking tall, CNN reports. He takes donations of Christmas trees after the holiday is over, turns them into fashionable canes, and gives them back to vets in need.
“I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” Willis told CNN. “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”
Willis recalls the first cane he received from the VA after leaving the service, an unsightly contraption that often collapsed under pressure.
He found a more reliable design from the Florida-based nonprofit Free Canes for Veterans, but they were out of stock after handing out 500.
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That’s when Willis decided he would make his own. The nonprofit’s director and fellow veteran, Oscar Morris, taught Willis how.
“The idea came from Oscar Morris, a fellow veteran who runs a program called Free Canes for Veterans who lives in Florida,” Wills told McClatchy News. “I saw that he was making canes for veterans in his area and I became interested and asked him if he minded if I started something like that here in Texas and he told me to please do it.”
Canes for Veterans Central Texas was born.
The mission of this undertaking is simple: make safe and sturdy canes that veterans aren’t embarrassed to be using.
“Most veterans hate the canes the VA gives them because they break easily,” Willis told McClatchy News. “When people see a veteran in public, they look at the cane and begin to ask about the type of disability you have. Now, with personalized canes, people take their attention off of the disability and pay more attention to the cane.”
According to CNN, Willis is the fifth veteran to start their own “Free Canes for Veterans” operation. He has so far delivered more than 200 to veterans around the world.
“It would be a blessing to get the word out for more veterans to do this,” Morris said “Each of these veterans were on my original list of 500 in 2015. It was the act of kindness and a piece of wood that was their inspiration.”
It takes Willis about a day to make a single cane out of one donated tree. He packages them and ships them out when they are finished, and he’s got plenty of supples to work through. Once word got around about his efforts, trees began arriving by the truckload.
“It’s been an outpouring of donations this year, more than I ever thought I would get,” Willis told CNN. “Home Depot flooded me with trees, they’re sending me 400, and the rest of the community will be giving me about another 100 trees.”
Those who don’t have a tree, but are still looking forays to help, are welcome to donate sandpaper to tools, Willis said. It’s all going to a good cause.
Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.