Lifestyle & Human Interest

Good Samaritan Gives Old, Dying Christmas Trees New Purpose: Helping Veterans


Jamie Willis is a 50-year-old U.S. Army veteran who has found a calling in helping other veterans like himself who have been left disabled and in need of a little extra help.

When he started looking around for a cane to use to help him get around, the ones he came across were unsatisfactory, ugly and sometimes even unstable. He then met Oscar Morris, who has started an organization called “Free Canes for Veterans.”

“Free Artistic Wooden canes,” the “About” page for the organization reads. “For Veterans that are dependent on a cane.”

When Willis reached out to Morris he discovered that there were no more canes currently available, but Morris did one better — he taught Willis to make his own cane.

“When I successfully sat down and made my very first cane, I asked him if I could branch it off and start Cane for Veterans in Central Texas and he said he would love for me to do that,” Willis told CNN.

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“It would be a blessing to get the word out for more veterans to do this,” Morris agreed, mentioning that several other veterans have picked up the cane baton and run with it. “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.”

The method takes Willis about a day per cane, and he makes them out of old Christmas trees. Since he’s made over 200 canes and is still going strong, he asks for Christmas tree donations once the holidays pass.

Willis received donations last year, but this year he got far more offers than he expected — and now he has quite a bit of material to work with.

“It’s been an outpouring of donations this year, more than I ever thought I would get,” he said. “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.”

Willis aims to make canes with character, often decorating them with specific marks recognizing their user’s status or history. He wants to deliver pieces that are truly unique and interesting instead of the flimsy, run-of-the-mill canes that many veterans are given.

“One day, grab a cane and walk with it,” Morris suggested. “You will feel broken because others will see you as broken. We make our canes for veterans to look ‘cool’ while giving honor for their service.”

“This is Mr. Joseph Galloway,” he shared on the Canes for Veterans Central Texas page in December, along with a photo of the veteran and his new cane. “My son and I had the honor and privilege to make a 7th Cavalry cane for him. ‘Garry Owen’ Sir, you are a true American hero.”

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“Thank for the great coverage of the conflicts you have been to and the time and dedication you have put forth. You risked your life time and time again to bring the truth to the American public. You are a one of a kind Joe, meeting you in person was such a great thrill during Desert Storm.”

With 500 trees promised to him, Willis will have his hands full — and that’s a good thing, especially since he’s unable to work due to his injuries after serving eight years in the military, and this pursuit keeps him busy and invested.

“I do this so I don’t sit home all day feeling sorry for myself,” he explained. “This is all out of kindness. I do everything out of pocket and from donations.”

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