Oscar Morris has always had an appreciation for veterans.
A Navy veteran himself, he understands the sacrifices these men and women have had to make and believes our community should be doing everything we can to take care of them.
So three years ago he started the project, “Free Canes For Veterans,” where he promised to do his part and make a hand-made wooden cane for any veteran in need of one.
“It all started on a fishing trip,” Morris said. “I work with wood and restore high-end furniture by trade. While fishing, my boat hit a limb that was sticking out of the water. As I saw it start to float away, I just grabbed it. I wondered what kind of colors were underneath the bark. The water causes the wood to turn colors and it was beautiful. But it was long and small, so I didn’t know what to do with it. So I made a cane.”
Morris had so much fun making the first cane that he began making others with different shapes, designs and colors. Soon, he had seven canes he didn’t know what to do with.
But with one post on Facebook, the Eustis resident’s mission quickly became a national sensation.
“A buddy of mine suggested I take them to the VA, but I thought that would be weird just walking in there and handing out canes,” Morris said. “So I put an ad on Facebook promising to make any disabled veteran a cane. I had no idea it would get such a response.”
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The post went viral as thousands of people shared the post throughout the country, and within 30 days, Morris had to cut it off because he had received more than 500 orders.
“I only had seven canes,” Morris said. “Boy was I in a pickle. I remember asking God how I was going to fulfill my promise with already over 500 orders. Then I remembered the verse that says, ‘All things are possible with God.’ With that peace of mind, I went to work.”
Before, in between and after his full-time job, Morris worked on the canes until every order was fulfilled, and then some. To date, he has made 731, each signed and marked with a number.
Each cane is custom-made for the specific veteran including their branch, rank and units, and embedded with a penny from the year that they entered the service.
One of the most important parts of the cane is the handle. It’s the feature Morris takes the most time getting just right for the veteran.
For instance, individuals with arthritis need bigger handles because they need to grip with the palm of their hand more than their fingers, and some are designed to help assist them in sitting and standing. He even carves grooves where their fingers should rest to properly grip. Some handles are bullet shaped, made from repurposed water bottles. Others are carved in the shape of something special. But each piece is unique and one of a kind, with the base mostly made from leftover Christmas trees.
“Having a disability can really bring people down, especially veterans,” Morris said. “Some are even young people who have to walk with a cane from being injured. I can’t heal them, but I can help them feel better. It gives them something they can be proud to carry around. I’ve seen it change their entire demeanor. It’s made even the toughest military guys cry.”
Morris has hundreds of stories to tell of the appreciation received from the canes, and keeps every card and letter from the veterans and their families.
And as he continues crafting canes, he is reaching out to others around the country to start their own Free Canes for Veterans to keep the mission going.
“We are all broken,” Morris said. “And just like this dirty piece of wood, it can be polished and useful. A lot of times, when we get disabilities, we feel useless and get worse. But I want the canes to remind them to hold themselves up high.”
© 2020 The Florida Times-Union
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