The holiday season has come to an end and families across the U.S. are taking down their decorations and throwing out their trees. But one man in Texas is repurposing the discarded evergreens for a good cause.
Jamie Willis runs Canes for Veterans Central Texas, an organization that creates free walking sticks out of scrap wood for veterans in need. Willis was inspired to start the organization in 2016, when he found himself in need of a sturdy cane, he told CBS News.
Willis served in the Army for eight years, but was left disabled. He would end up needing to use a cane to get around, but didn't like the one he received from Veterans Affairs. He decided to reach out to the organization Free Canes for Veterans to ask for a suitable replacement.
Oscar Morris, who runs Free Canes for Veterans had to apologize to Willis because they were all out. However, Morris was able to offer Willis another gift: He taught Willis how to make a cane himself.
After Willis crafted his first cane, Morris encouraged him to make another for someone else in need. This gave Willis an idea. He asked if he could start a Central Texas chapter of Free Canes for Veterans, and Morris said yes.
Willis decided to take the good deed one step further by using recycled Christmas trees to make the canes.
During his first year running Canes for Veterans Central Texas, Willis simply collected discarded trees and wood from his neighborhood. Now, after getting some media attention, Willis has received an influx of donated trees from neighbors, strangers and even big stores like Home Depot and Lowes.
This past holiday season, the organization has amassed 1,500 donated trees and counting, Willis said.
Since 2016, Willis and his team of more than 60 volunteers have made 222 canes for veterans in need. Veterans can request a cane through an online form, and any extra canes are hand-delivered by Willis to the homes of veterans or hospitals housing them.
He's even started to customize the canes with slogans and designs chosen by the veterans, making each one unique to its recipient.
Willis now cherishes the moment he hands a free, handmade cane to a veteran.
"It's a great feeling, it's like they stand prouder," he told CBS News. "It brings an overwhelming joy back to them and to me,"
"It takes their eyes off of their so-called disability and it takes their eye to the cane. Because when you look at a person with just a metal cane, everyone just looks at the person to see why they have that cane," Willis added. "But now, when you're walking around with one of the canes that we make, they look at the cane and they're looking at a piece of artwork."
Willis can't yet use the Christmas trees he's received this season just yet because they need time to dry out. However, he has plenty of scrap wood on hand to help his team reach their goal of producing 1,000 canes this year.