ROSSLYN, Va. (7News) — Reporter's Notebook: Our latest 7Salutes story is a follow-up to a powerful segment we did years ago. A local retired veteran who gives away beautiful suits for free to fellow veterans isn’t letting an organ transplant stop him from helping those who served the nation.
Every so often, 69-year-old Prince Rawlings and his pal 77-year-old Melvin Woodard of Maryland pack up and drop off suits at Zips Cleaners to be cleaned; suits donated to them by various individuals and organizations throughout the DMV.
But these fancy garments aren’t a part of their personal wardrobes, instead, these threads are for veterans in need.
“Every man or woman who puts on a suit, you feel good about yourself," said Rawlings.
Several years ago, Rawlings, a decorated veteran who served for decades in the Army, was forever changed while getting dialysis at Walter Reed Medical Center. He was deeply moved after seeing countless wounded warriors struggling with their mental health.
“I know that there are 22 veterans who are going to die today because of suicide. That’s hard to believe," said Rawlings.
Rawlings and Woodard, who served in the Air Force in Vietnam, refused to stand by while their brothers and sisters-in-arms suffered.
So, they started H-A-V-E, which stands for Helping Another Veteran Endure.
Rawlings said since 2017, this non-profit has provided more than 3,000 suits and dresses to veterans restarting their lives after enduring the horrors of war. They plan on handing out thousands of more items of clothing through the V.A. and other veterans groups.
“It’s not like giving you some hand-me-down. These suits, some of them still have the tags on them. They’re brand new," Woodard told us.
He and Rawlings see their efforts as an opportunity to lift up veterans returning from abroad who may need a suit for an interview or for a special occasion. Rawlings wants veterans to know these donations come from the heart.
“Hey, somebody cares about me," added Rawlings.
But Rawlings wasn’t sure he would see this day. Last year, he underwent a life-saving kidney transplant.
“Yes, they saved my life," Rawlings said.
He may not move as fast as he used to, but he and Melvin said they are exactly where they need to be; continuing to serve those who served the nation.
“We will continue to do this as long as I can walk and talk," concluded Woodard.
Rawlings said, “I just want to do something for my country. And I still am.”
Rawlings also mentioned to us his deepest gratitude to Zips Cleaners, Navy Federal Credit Union, and the V.A. for supporting his non-profit over the years.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who needs to talk – the Veterans Crisis Line is open 24/7. All you need to do is hit 9-8-8 on your phone, then press 1 or text 838255 to connect with a crisis counselor.