Cavan McIntyre-Brewer is a soldier’s child who delivers warmth and comfort to veterans and wounded warriors.
The 15-year-old runs Socks for Vets, an organization that gives socks, blankets, rain ponchos, and other comfort items to veterans in nursing homes or who live on the streets.
“We serve about 15,000 people a year,” Cavan, of Duncannon, Pennsylvania, tells PEOPLE. “I really like helping them.”
The youngster got the idea for his project in 2009, while his dad, Army Captain Steven Brewer, was deployed.
“I was feeling lonely. I missed him a lot,” Cavan says.
To help fill the void, then-eight-year-old Cavan went to a veterans’ home with his Cub Scout troop to sing Christmas carols.
There, Cavan learned that he wasn’t the only one who felt lonely. A Korean War veteran at the home wanted a checkers partner, so Cavan agreed to come back. During subsequent visits, Cavan noticed that many of the veterans lacked basic comfort items.
“A lot of them didn’t have socks and stuff,” Cavan says. “So we went back with socks and blankets and things they needed.”
Soon, Cavan enlisted churches and civic groups, such as 4-H and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, to pitch in with supplies and a network of volunteers.
“We kept doing it,” he says.
The project expanded to include veterans around the country, including those who don’t live anywhere.
“We find homeless veterans,” says Cavan. “Sometimes they are at special events just for them, and sometimes they are under bridges. Wherever they are, we go to them directly.”
Anywhere Cavan might find a veteran, he comes prepared.
Three years ago, during a visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., Cavan encountered fellow tourist Barney Leone, a former Navy machinist mate who watched the American flag go up during the Battle of Iwo Jima.
“Cavan came right up to me, and he had these folded socks in his hand,” says Leone, now 92. “He explained what he was doing. He wanted to give me these socks, which I thought was very nice.”
The act of giving is the core of Cavan’s efforts.
He has a servant’s heart,” says mom Chelle McIntyre-Brewer, 37, a volunteer health advocate and stay-at-home mom. “He does this because it’s what he enjoys doing.”
“He has a feeling for service people,” says Leone, who has remained friends with the McIntyre-Brewer family. “He wanted to know all about me, and what I did in the Navy. He’s a really nice boy.”
In 2015, Operation Homefront recognized Cavan for his work, honoring him as the Army Military Child of the Year.
“The children in our military families demonstrate the best in our society and our Military Child of the Year Award recipients are extraordinary representatives of this spirit of selfless service,” Laura Yzaguirre, chief financial & administrative officer for Operation Homefront, tells PEOPLE. “Cavan’s tireless volunteerism, academic achievements, and adaptability to the challenges of military family life made him a great candidate for this recognition.”
His father, a medic, couldn’t be prouder of his son’s work — with or without an award.
“Kids need to know that what they do is important,” Steven, 40, tells PEOPLE, “even when it isn’t recognized with awards, but there is definitely a swell of pride to see Cavan be honored in this way.”
Service clearly runs in the McIntyre-Brewer family. Cavan’s 10-year-old sister Lorelei, who was born with half a heart, was the 2016 honoree, for her work making compression heart pillows in order to help pediatric heart patients recover after surgery.
For his own project, Cavan is ramping up his efforts for Christmas. He plans to deliver greeting cards and comfort items to veterans. Socks for Vets has posted a wish list for people who want to contribute. A main item on this year’s list is pocket tissues.
In the new year, Cavan will continue to work on a relatively new branch of work, training pack goats to carry supplies for wounded warriors who want to go hiking.
Says Cavan: “I just like helping our vets. I want to do more.”
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