JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) — Visit the Mountain Home Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Johnson City and you’ll find an army of volunteers committed helping those who served in the Armed Forces.
But tucked away behind closed doors, News Channel 11 found a couple of veterans on a unique volunteer mission of their own.
“Most of the time it’s hemming pants in the winter,” said Lois Wetzel, a volunteer seamstress who gives her time at Mountain Home. “In the summertime, they come back and want us to cut them off for shorts.”
One day a week, Lois Wetzel and two other volunteers get to work stitching, hemming, patching and repairing clothing brought to them by veterans receiving care at Mountain Home VA Medical Center or in one of the VA’s domiciliaries.
“They’ll ask us if we can help them out and repair some, and we do our best,” Wetzel said.
Wetzel, herself a veteran who worked as an Army nurse, said the pandemic was proof this volunteer work is important.
“We were deemed essential volunteers so we got to work through COVID,” she said.
For fellow volunteer seamstress Laurel Reaves, volunteering was the tailor-made solution to her search for something to do in retirement.
“I found out through the website through the VA that there was a sewing room,” Reaves said. “I can sew and thought it would be a good match.”
Reaves said it may seem like a small problem to have a garment you love in need of repair. But for veterans they meet, it’s a real need.
“If you can’t sew, getting a button put on is pretty important,” Reaves said.
Some of the clothing they work on comes from a donation pile, which veterans can choose from if they’re in need. Other items are beloved apparel from the veterans’ own closets.
“People bring in their favorite pants or cap, and we get to help them repair it so they continue to use it,” Reaves said.
Reaves is also a veteran of the United States Air Force.
“It is a good feeling to help my fellow veterans, even if they did serve in the Marines or the Navy or the Army,” she said with a laugh.
For these volunteers, it’s a way to serve and give thanks – one seam at a time.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to help someone by sewing a button on or hemming the pants,” Wetzel said. “Sometimes they say hello and they’ll come through to thank us, and we’re thanking them for what they did for us.”