FT. SILL, Okla. (TNN) - The Fort Sill Recycle Center has found a great way to utilize dozens of Christmas trees that would have been heading to the landfill and it will help lots of veterans in need.
The Fort Sill Recycle Center has a program called Troops for Trees where donated Christmas trees are given to soldiers. They always have leftover trees that they try to give to wildlife officials who use them for things like feeding quail or as fish habitats. This year, they found a new way to dispose of them, a man in Texas who takes the trees and turns them into a unique cane for a veteran in need.
Once the manager at the Fort Sill Recycle Center heard about Canes for Veterans, getting involved was an easy decision.
"It’s kind of like closing the circle. Because these trees come from trees for troops, which are donated by individuals to thank soldiers for what they’re doing and help their Christmas. To me, it’s kind of like extending that. Perhaps we couldn’t find it a home as a Christmas tree, but maybe we’ll find it a home as a cane going to a veteran,” said Fort Sill Recycle Program manager Christina Smith.
There are groups making canes for veterans across the country, but the group has for has been operating out of Fort Hood, Texas since 2016. That’s when Jamie Willis, a 100-percent disabled Desert Storm veteran, needed a cane of his own and was encouraged to make it himself.
“I was like Oscar there's no way I can do this. I'm like I don't have the skills to make a cane. He just kept saying believe in yourself and you can do it. After a few days I had sat down and made my first cane and I felt wonderful about it. It was strong, it was sturdy, it wasn't perfect but name a vet that is perfect. You can't we're all beat up,” Willis said.
Once he finished that first cane, he received another simple instruction. "I want you to make another cane and give it away,” Willis said.
So, he did. Willis said he has now given away 222 canes. Each cane is unique to the person receiving it. Willis will include things like the unit they served in and any awards they earned.
"It’s more of a sense of pride for them. It’s more personal to them,” Willis said.
The canes also allow the Christmas trees the chance to become something useful rather than just rotting at the landfill. "Our true mission is landfill avoidance and we’re doing that through recycling. It doesn’t matter if it’s a can or a plastic bottle or a Christmas tree. For us, it’s the same thing. Let’s find another use for the thing we’ve got,” Smith said.
Willis says he never envisioned he’d be making hundreds of canes, but he won’t be stopping anytime soon.
"I just hope other people can find it in their heart to start something else like this. It’s a great feeling to just do something for others. No matter how small it is, it does make a difference,” Willis said.
Willis is going to be very busy in the coming months. He said before Christmas, he posted on Facebook asking people to donate their trees to him instead of throwing them out. Since then, more than 1,500 trees have been brought to his house. If you’d like to learn more or donate you can go here.