Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Randy Young is making his share of sacrifices while trekking across southern Ontario to raise awareness, money, and toys for Christmas for the families of Canadian veterans and active servicemen and women.
It's the least he can do, he believes.
"The way I look at, they crawled through the mud and blood, and they swam through the oily water and went down in a ball of flames. I can spend a couple nights sleeping in a van and walking on a cold day."
Young – or Sgt. Santa, as he wishes to be called – is the founder of the Friends of Veterans charity. On Thursday, he stopped in Stratford at the cenotaph as part of his 55-city tour that will take him from his hometown of London to Petawawa, home to the country's largest military base. On each stop Young is soliciting donations of either cash or toys. Details on how to donate are online at friendsofveterans.ca.
Money raised will support his travel expenses (which he is keeping low by limiting his stays in a hotel) and to be used to purchase gift cards for families receiving support through the Petawawa Military Family Resource Centre.
"We need to show (our military families) we know what they are going through," Young says.
Earlier stops in the week in Woodstock, Tavistock, and St. Marys helped create awareness of his efforts, but Young, who's making the rounds dressed in the familiar red and white clothing, says more support is always needed. After Stratford he planned to stop in Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge, and then in Hamilton and Mississauga on Friday. Young says he will spend Remembrance Day in Toronto, walking from Young Street to Sunnybrook Hospital, which has its own wing dedicated to caring for veterans.
Young, 55, is hoping to walk a large portion of his tour, and expects to have logged 420 kilometers by the time he's finished.
"I figure it's been about 32 years since I've walked even 20 kilometers, and in last four days I've done 66," he says. "I plan on drinking some protein shakes along the way."
Another big piece of his visits is collecting stories from veterans. The charity has spent seven years chronicling veterans' memories of war on video. Young was hoping to collect at least another 100 hours during the tour.
"The reason a lot of guys and gals don't talk about the war, especially to their relatives, is because they don't want to hurt their family by telling them what they went through" he adds. "But their memories cannot be forgotten."