Canes For Veterans collects Christmas trees
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Local nonprofit organization Canes for Veterans Central Texas collected more than 60 Christmas trees at the Bru-Thru in Copperas Cove on Sunday.
The trees will be stripped of the branches and sanded down before receiving a decal and being coated in an epoxy resin to make canes that will go to veterans who have filled out an order form. The organization’s founder, Jamie Willis, said that due to COVID-19, everything slowed down.
Last December, Willis had a goal of 200 canes for 2020. His organization soon received an influx of orders and more than 2,000 trees were donated for the cause after several news outlets picked up the story.
“It’s been pretty good,” Willis said. “We’ve taken in several hundred requests for canes.”
The team behind Canes for Veterans Central Texas is still working on getting out orders for canes placed by supporters during December 2019.
Sunday’s tree collection was the only one scheduled this year for the organization currently, according to Willis. By the end of the event, they had collected 65 Christmas trees, filling three trailers to move the word elsewhere.
The trees collected Sunday will eventually be used for the canes, but first, they need to be delimbed and sanded before being turned into a cane.
In addition to COVID, the weather also played a part in delaying the completion of some of the canes.
“It’s just been rough with COVID and everything slowed way down for us, plus we had to wait for the trees to dry from the previous year, so there was that long wait period for us, but now everything is ramped up,” Willis said. “We’re getting the canes out. It just took longer of a process because we had to find dry wood.”
Willis shared that he and his team have managed to mail out four to five canes a week, but they are still behind, with some orders having been commissioned after Christmas 2019.
“It makes me feel great,” Willis said about the canes and seeing people continue to support Canes for Veterans. “I mean, the whole organization is just so thankful for the public’s support on everything. We’re just hoping that more volunteers come out and put in work.”
About 12 volunteers helped at the collection Sunday, Willis said. Willis said that as a nonprofit, Canes for Veterans Central Texas is able to offer community service hours to those who need it. It is a lengthy process to turn the tree into a cane, and Canes for Veterans Central Texas is always looking for people to come help out.
For this year, Willis hopes to raise enough money to build a workshop to have more space for the cane making process. Currently, all canes are made in Willis’ garage. Earlier this year, Willis partnered with Absolut Vodka and had the Canes for Veterans Central Texas logo printed on the displays across Texas. As of May 2020, at least $15,000 had been raised for Canes for Veterans Central Texas.
Willis, a veteran himself who had served in the Army from 1989 to 1998, first founded Canes of Veterans Central Texas in 2016 after looking for a better cane than the one he had been given by the V.A. He found Oscar Morse in Florida, who had been creating canes for veterans. Willis was told he couldn’t get on the list but that he should make his own cane, and after Morse showed Willis how to make the canes, Willis continued making canes.
Canes for Veterans Central Texas has expanded to include others besides Willis. The organization’s secretary and treasurer is Megan Kent. The organization’s operation coordinator is Monica Garza. Jared Kent is the lead craftsman, while Jake Willis is the lead inventory manager, and Craig Flores is the lead safety coordinator. David Garza is the assistant safety coordinator. Carl Parkhurst is the Public Relations person. These men are also craftsmen who help make the canes.
For those who still have a tree they’d like to dispose of, Canes for Veterans Central Texas will accept the trees. Those interested in donating should contact the Canes for Veterans Central Texas to set up a drop off. If the trees are delimbed prior to drop off, this will help make it easier for Willis and his team.
The organization’s website is https://canesforveteranscentex.org/, and the phone number is 254- 394-3150.