MOUNTAIN HOME, Tenn. (AP) - Steve Blevins can't stand to see veterans go without necessary clothing.
But instead of waiting for a guardian angel to swoop in and magically solve the problem, he's taken matters into his own hands.
"These guys are heroes, and most of the time they're left out." Blevins said.
Blevins, an Army veteran living at the James H. Quillen Veterans Affairs Medical Center, organized Veterans Helping Veterans with several friends in the center's community living center to raise money to buy shoes and other apparel for veterans in need. The group received some extra help with a $100 donation from Wal-Mart, and members donated their own money to support comrades still trying to find their footing.
VA Secretary of Volunteer Service Robert McDilda said a couple of organizations have consistently donated shoes to the department, but they weren't receiving enough to keep up with the center's need.
"We had a period in the past few months were there were a lot of veterans needing shoes," McDilda said. "The shoes were falling off their feet."
To date, Blevins and his friends have bought 25 pairs of shoes, a number they've accumulated over the past week and a half, and have plans to continue accepting donations to buy clothes and shoes for the winter.
"We're going to reach out to as many people as we can get," Blevins said. "There's a need for everything. Sometimes veterans come in and they don't have a shirt off their back. With winter coming in, these shoes and these clothes and coats and stuff we need are very important."
Blevins has been involved in multiple community efforts in the past - including volunteering at veterans' funerals and providing quilts to veterans who live in the medical center - and said he always enjoys seeing people smile.
"It's a joy like no other to just see someone smile like that," Blevins said. "I think a lot of people take it for granted what their freedoms are here in the United States, and that's very sad. They don't realize where their freedom comes from. Their freedom comes from the blood and sweat of veterans."
People can take their donations to Volunteer Services in the VA. The department accepts donations in the form of personal care items, such as t-shirts, underwear and winter coats. Individuals interested in donating money or shoes to Veterans Helping Veterans can contact Steve Blevins at 423-262-7056, and they can also call Voluntary Services at 423-979-2891 for information on how to donate articles of clothing or money.
"We'll help anybody," Blevins said. "There's not one person who's more valuable than the next. Everybody's treated fair. Anytime anybody needs anything they should feel open and willing to come and ask for it, because this isn't a handout. It's a help up. There's a difference."
Information from: Johnson City Press, http://www.johnsoncitypress.com