Copperas Cove veteran receives overwhelming support of 1,000 Christmas trees to make canes, now seeks supplies
By BRITTANY FHOLER
When Copperas Cove veteran Jamie Willis requested Christmas trees to use to create canes for veterans and nonveterans, he never anticipated the response he would get.
His simple response went viral, and as of Sunday, more than 1,000 old trees had been donated to Willis to be used to create wooden canes for veterans and nonveterans.
This far exceeds Willis’ initial goal of 200 canes for 2020. It takes one tree to make one cane.
Willis started Canes for Veterans Central Texas in 2016, after he received an aluminum cane from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The aluminum cane ended up breaking, and the replacement cane looked ugly to Willis.
He began searching online for different canes and came across the Florida-based organization Free Canes for Veterans, run by Navy veteran Oscar De Vere Morris III.
There was a 500-cane limit and so Willis was unable to receive one, but Morris taught him how to make his own. After a couple days of working on it, Willis had made his first cane for himself. He made another cane to give away and then another, and eventually started Cane for Veterans Central Texas, with Morris’ blessing.
Since 2016, Willis has made and given away more than 222 wooden canes.
Willis said when he first started making the canes, he was at a low place but making the canes helped him.
“It was a turning point in life, and it’s helped me out a lot, and I’m hoping that other veterans do the same thing,” Willis said.
Willis works on the canes in his garage, using an angle grinder to cut off the bark and sandpaper to sand the tree smooth.
Last year, Willis asked the community to donate their old Christmas trees and drove around town picking up every tree. This year, he asked the community to drop them off instead, and the response has been more than Willis anticipated.
“I had a lady yesterday drive down from Dallas with a single tree because somehow she saw it on the news in Dallas and she just wanted to drive down and meet me and say thank you for what I was doing,” Willis said.
He described the interaction as very humbling.
“I have no words. The love I felt at that moment, it was just tremendous,” Willis said. “I don’t see me as doing anything special. This isn’t about me. It’s about the veterans and the people who are getting my canes.”
Willis said he doesn’t want any recognition.
“I just want the veterans to know that there’s people out that care about them,” Willis said. “I love the fact that I’m taking people’s eyes off of the veteran themselves, because when you look at a veteran with a regular cane, you’re wondering what’s wrong with that person, but if I can give them something that takes the eye off the veteran and now they’re looking at the piece of artwork that they’re carrying with them. Now you don’t see them as being disabled, you’re seeing them as ‘Whoa, that’s pretty cool,’ and now you’re checking out the designs and shapes and what it looks like. Now you see them as just another person.”
The Killeen Home Depot donated 400 trees over the weekend. Willis said that he has had to utilize a friend’s property to hold all of the trees due to the mass amount. The side of his house on Jesse Drive had been taken over by Christmas trees waiting to be delimbed.
On Sunday, Willis had the help of several veterans who volunteered their time and helped delimb 157 trees.
Willis said that he is no longer in need of trees but instead will gladly accept supplies and monetary donations.
To donate, people can send money via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a message to the Cane for Veterans Central Texas Facebook page. Top of Form
Willis also has an Amazon wish list. He is accepting donations of sandpaper, in grit sizes 60, 150 and 220; polyurethane; clear epoxy resin, draw knives, lathe knives, interleaf flap disk wheels for four-inch angle grinders; 1-¼-inch rubber chair leg caps; one-inch paint brushes; and angle grinders.
The link to the Amazon wish list can be found here:
There is also a GoFundMe to raise money for Canes for Veterans Central Texas. The link can be found at:
As of Sunday, $1,002 of the $1,000 goal had been raised by 22 donors.
To request a cane, those interested can fill out a form found on the Facebook page or by sending a message.