Demand soars for veterans’ crafting kits amid COVID-19

August 22, 2020
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Mark Kaleimamahu, 62, moved into the Alpha Lofts, a housing facility for veterans who have experienced homelessness in San Diego, just over a year before coronavirus cases began sweeping across the United States.

Like thousands of veterans with preexisting conditions, Kaleimamahu, who lives with multiple sclerosis, said he had little room to “take chances” amid the outbreak and mostly avoided outside visitors.

To cope with stress and anxiety during the pandemic, the Marine Corps veteran turned to what some may consider an unlikely source of comfort: crafting kits.

“Staying home, just for our health’s sake, those kits helped pass the time,” he told ABC News. “It relieved a bunch of stress, anxiety, and they were fun to do — along with helping us mentally, spiritually and physically.”

Kaleimamahu and hundreds of thousands of veterans across the country receive kits from Help Heal Veterans, a nonprofit that provides arts-and-crafts materials free of charge to recovering veterans.

Crafting, according to Joe McClain, a retired Navy Captain and the CEO of Help Heal Veterans, is “just a really versatile tool that we provide for free, that can really make a big difference.”

For many veterans, McClain told ABC News, working with their hands is therapeutic, and it’s why crafting “is a really big part of the occupational therapy profession.”

“Let’s say you have a [traumatic brain injury] patient — maybe it’s fine motor skills or the ability to concentrate that’s helpful for the clinician when treading a patient,” McClain added. “For PTSD, it may be creativity and task accomplishment — the sense that ‘I can accomplish something small, I can take on the more stressful things in life.'”

As the U.S. struggles to contain the novel coronavirus, demand for Help Heal Veterans kits has skyrocketed.

The group typically ships 350,000 to 400,000 kits a year and has delivered almost 150,000 over just the last two months, as requests from the Veterans Administration have tripled, McClain said.

“You have people who are already suffering from, you know, either a traumatic brain injury or PTSD, severe abuse, chronic pain, and a lot of those things are caused by stress,” McClain said. “Now you add stress on top of that – be it what everybody else is going through, be it isolation, the financial stress, the stress of just the unknown — that just adds to it. So it’s a difficult challenge for people who are trying to recover from a wound of war.”

As COVID-19 cases climb, Kaleimamahu and he and his fellow veterans at the Alpha Lofts have found the kits particularly therapeutic.

“We actually can’t have outside visitors into the complex with the fear of infecting the entire complex. The kits have taken up that space,” he said.

Kaleimamahu said he’s completed projects including a biker’s wallet, a messenger bag and a wall clock, and that “the kits themselves, what they’ve done for me is take my mind off of having M.S.”

McClain said helping veterans is especially important because it’s ingrained in them to help others, not themselves.

“They’ll be the first one to say, ‘Don’t worry about me, go help my buddy,'” McClain added, “so it’s incumbent upon citizens, I think, to reach out, make sure they’re OK.”

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