I recently received a lovely email from a woman named Flo who had noticed a Craiglist post that she thought I might be interested in from a disabled veteran named Joe who crochets for others to help people in need and ward off his own depression. I reached out to Joe and we had a lovely email exchange. I wanted to share his story with you today because I find it inspiring and heartwarming. Joe can always use donations to help him create the items that he donates to people less fortunate than himself.
About Joe and How Crochet Helps Him
Joe is a disabled veteran who was hit by a car when he was on duty in West Berlin. The military refused to provide any medical aid or benefits and he gets very limited help from the VA, which he has to pay for despite having no income. He did try to continue working after the accident but his pain got increasingly worse and in 2001 his back completely gave out on him. He had to get back surgery and there were complications. His disability has kept him housebound for many years. He was stuck in a wheelchair for more than two years and although he can walk now it’s really painful. He also has associated heart conditions and related mental health issues including memory loss.
Joe says that crochet helps to keep him busy. He was always someone who worked hard for what he wanted and tried to help people. With his injuries, he felt very helpless and worthless. He reports that crochet significantly helps to keep depression at bay for him. He was very depressed to the point of being suicidal before he discovered crochet. Crocheting for others has given him meaning and purpose. He adds, “I love to learn and I don’t think anyone can actually learn all there is to know about yarn … but it sure is fun trying!”
He also knits although he is more skilled at crochet; he considers himself an advanced beginner in crochet and a beginner in knitting. Joe had learned to crochet as a child (more about that below) but forgotten all about it until after his father died and his mother was cleaning out the house and found the old crochet hooks. Joe didn’t do anything with them at the time but a few years ago his mother passed away. He shares:
“I used to call my mother a lot, especially when winters began. The first snow flurries would hit me and then her about an hour or so later and so I would call her and let her know, but really I just wanted to talk to her. This last winter the flurries came and I grabbed my phone and headed to the bedroom to call her. I began to dial and remembered she is dead. I was very sad. I’d been sad for such a long time. I went out of my bedroom and spotted the hooks on the shelf – a Boye beginner’s set of 5 crochet hooks.
I picked them up and called to my wife and asked if my son had any craft yarn left from his grade school time. She disappeared onto the front porch and reappeared with 3 partial skeins of Red Heart Super Saver each in a different color. I took them and sat down to get tutorials from youtube. For the next couple of days I began to remember how to chain, then sc then dc. It came quite naturally to me and i was enjoying it. I literally hadn’t enjoyed anything in years.
When I began to crochet, my life began to change immediately and dramatically. My wife must have seen this because the next thing I now we’re at a yard sale buying yarn; it was the first time that I’d been out of the house in years for anything other than doctors’ appointments.”
About Boys and Men Crocheting
One of the most interesting parts of the conversation that we had was about the stigma around boys and men crocheting and how he is challenging that stigma. He actually learned to crochet when he was seven or eight years old. He grew up in the 1960s in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA in a family that was very poor and had to crochet their own clothes. He crocheted for about five years and just thought it was normal but when he was about 12 he got badly bullied and beaten up for doing the craft so his parents decided he should stop and took the hooks away.
Joe has a teenaged son and at first his son would look at him funny when he was crocheting. They had a discussion about it and his son admitted that he thought crochet was a girls’ thing or something only gay men would choose to do. Joe dispelled that notion quickly, telling him that it’s prejudiced to think that only one gender can do something. He says, “If one is good at something and they like to do that thing then why should they limit themselves from doing it?” He adds that he’s surprised that there’s still stigma attached to yarncrafting by men today.
What He Crochets and Who It Helps
Joe loves to crochet items to donate to the homeless and needy. He crochets hand warmers, beanies and he really loves to crochets blankets when he can get enough yarn. He wants to start crocheting sweaters. And he’s beginning to crochet organizers for the elderly to help them keep track of things like their keys and TV remotes. He shares, “I am just a tool to change yarn into useful things for others.”
One of the things that Joe wants to do is to get to the level where he can teach other disabled veterans how to crochet. He knows from his own experience that it’s a way to feel productive and useful even when you have a disability and he would like to offer that gift to others. He says, “I think everyone should have a hobby that they like to do. For so long, I lived in the past and dwelt on things I could no longer do either financially, physically, or mentally. But finally, I found that I can do something and its useful. Crochet works for me. I am having a very tough time with all those veterans who are committing suicide and I think that something useful and busy would alleviate this statistic, too. I ask myself why they are being ignored and how can I help them.”
Joe does not accept donations of money and he doesn’t charge anything for the items that he makes. However, he does accept donations of yarn and other needed supplies to help offset the cost of creating the items that he donates. Basically, if you donate yarn to him, he’ll make the items and gift them to those in need at no cost. Joe prefers acrylic yarn to make handwarmers and likes bulky/ chunky weights for scarves, cowls and hats. Joe still doesn’t have a full set of crochet hooks and he can also use more buttons. Ready to donate? Send me an email (kathryn.vercillo – a gmail address) and I’ll let you know the mailing address and email contact info.