Kyle Cornwell was having dinner with some friends in Sacramento several months ago when he spotted a man wearing a military jacket and Vietnam vet hat sitting on the sidewalk. The man was visibly shivering.
Cornwell, a disabled veteran himself, started to walk away but turned around and took off his $200 jacket and gave it to the man. He then gave the man his leftovers from dinner and sat down for a talk.
“He started crying. And I just sat with him for like 10 minutes and talked to him and got his story,” Cornwell told Fox News. “I thought if I had this effect on just one person, what effect would have I have on many more.”
From that night on, Cornwell has a new mission: to help the more than 300 homeless veterans in his northern California community and to inspire others around the country to do the same.
“I want this to be a movement,” he said. “I want this to blow up and for people all over the country to do this. I can only help so many veterans in my community and others need to step up (as well).”
He added: “I ask ‘how many people care?’ How many people will donate $5 instead of buying a coffee at Starbucks?’”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that there are more than 39,000 homeless veterans at any given night nationwide. In California, HUD estimates there are more than 9,600 homeless veterans.
Cornwell said there are about 300 homeless vets living in his community and he has helped upwards of 50. The goal is to double that number.
“I drive around town and spot them. I talk to them and get their story,” he said. “I want to put warm clothes on them and food in their stomach.”
Part of talking to these veterans is also to get an idea of what kinds of things they need.
“I write their names – it’s like a modern-day Santa Claus,” Cornwell said. “Then I go out and see how much of that stuff I can get.”
He added: “And I keep my word. I go back to the spot I met them.”
Goodwill and Salvation Army stores are Cornwell’s go-to places to shop for clothes. He usually takes his 6-year-old daughter for the shopping trips.
“I am a single father and I want to set a good example about paying it forward,” he said. “She’s always asking to go shopping for the vets.”
Word has been getting around about Cornwell’s mission and have reached out to help. At one point, they have a U-Haul truck full of donations from clothes to food to sleeping backs and even tents.
“One time I had five cars full of stuff to give out,” he said. “Many times we have come back with empty cars.”
Aside from actually giving these veterans clothes or food, Cornwell said the most important part is actually to talk to them – to let them know that someone who cares.
“Just talking to them, you can see the change in them,” he added.
Cornwell said he is still looking into making this project into a non-profit, but in the meantime, donations can be made through GoFundMe.
“I am learning as I go along,” he said.