Vets surprised with special wheelchairs for Christmas

Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, donated wheelchairs
One of the wheelchairs that was donated to the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans. (Dec. 14, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The magic of the holiday season can be a gift in itself. But residents at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans learned that when you add a surprise necessity under the tree, that magic becomes a feeling; a comfort from those who care.

“They don’t have anything. Being here at the vets home, people seem to think that everything is provided for everybody. That’s not true, they have a roof over their head, they have medical care, they got a place to sleep, they got three meals a day,” David Reese said.

Reese, who was in the military during the Vietnam era, is a member of the AMVET VFW in Newaygo, where he serves his fellow veterans.

“Things that are extra, things that are special, they deserve them — they’re veterans. But they don’t have the income, they don’t have the finances,” Reese said.

So this year, Reese called up the veterans home and asked what his friends needed. The home had just bought some specialized wheelchairs. The chairs’ seats and backs are padded, and the backs recline and allow veterans to rock back and forth. But there were only five and the home had more veterans who could use one.

“They’re $2,000 apiece. You can’t run out and buy one,” Reese said.

Reese got together with members of his AMVET VFW and they fundraised. They threw cornhole tournaments and made phone calls. An effort he thought wouldn’t happen by Christmas started to pick up support. After just five weeks, they began to start ordering their chairs.

“The harder you work, the more you get out of working,” Reese said. “And so we worked really hard at contacting people and soliciting for donations and telling people what this was and who it’s for.”

When Reese stood in front of a microphone at the veterans home Thursday to announce the donation of six new chairs, jaws dropped.

Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, donated wheelchairs
Photo: 24 Hour News 8 photojournalist Ron Swanson captures images of one of the wheelchairs. (Dec. 14, 2017)

The fundraising efforts of Reese and his 50 or so volunteers also brought in an extra $4,000. They used that money to purchase items off of the home’s Christmas wish list — items veterans ask for.

“They had this huge list of things that they need and not just socks, underwear and hats, but AM/FM radios with a clock in it, DVD players, puzzles, games, all kinds of different things,” Reese said.

His passion stems from his desire to give back to those who have sacrificed so much for their countrymen. He’s fueled by an urge to let veterans know they’re not forgotten and they will be taken care of.

“When you’re sitting all alone at Christmas time and you got no relatives around you, you got nothing to let you know that there’s a giving season going on, you feel pretty much all alone and people have forgotten you,” Reese said. “Well, I’m here to tell you, no one’s forgotten about them.”

During the holiday season, his reason to give is as extraordinary as the season itself.

“They really need to have somebody come in here and say yeah, we know you’re here,” he continued. “We love you, we honor you, we respect you and we want you to feel good about being alive and being taken care of and so we want to take care of you even better. “