Tools for Troops hands out free tools to veterans

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - As part of a military family, Pete Wall wanted to find a way to give back. He started Tools for Troops to give away free tools to service members.

As an engineer, West Linn resident Pete Wall is always on the hunt for new tools.

So when he joined hands with Patt Bilow of Lake Oswego earlier this year to found a new organization for veterans, it occurred to Wall that many service men and women returning home might also need tools for their garages.

Six months later, that new organization — “Tools for Troops — held its first ever tool giveaway at the Robinwood Community Center. The idea is simple: veterans or current members of the five major service branches (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard) are eligible to take any refurbished tool that Tools for Troops has to offer, free of charge. The tools are gathered through a variety of networking efforts, including spring cleanups in North Portland and the Sabin neighborhood in Northeast Portland, and then an inventory is sent out to interested veterans.

In all, Tools for Troops distributed 143 hand and powered tools to more than a dozen veterans during its first giveaway June 11.

“We’re giving away things for free, no donation box at all,” Wall said. “(We have) everything from landscaping, rakes, shovels, hoes, toolboxes, power drills, chainsaws, hedge cutters…”

Wall himself is not a veteran, but most of his family has served – including his son, in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army – and he said he has “the greatest respect” for everyone in the armed forces. Bilow, for her part, served for 20 years in the Coast Guard.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Wall formed Tools for Troops with Lake Oswego resident Patt Bilow, a 20-year Coast Guard veteran. The first tool giveaway took place June 11 at the Robinwood Community Center.

“We really hit a niche, because the demand is phenomenal,” Wall said. “We’ve got the coast guard, we’ve got the marines, we’ve got just about everybody coming in.”

Many of the veterans who stopped by were notified of the service through the Joint Transition Assistance Program (JTAP). Scott Wilkening, a Reintegration Specialist at JTAP, sent out a mass email about Tools for Troops to 450 veterans in the area, some of whom looking for work.

The invitation eventually made its way to Alex Konopka, a current Coast Guard reserve based out of Astoria. Konopka and his family live in the Portland area, and he jumped at the opportunity to add new tools to his collection.

“I got probably 10 or 12 items,” Konopka said. “Then my shipmate probably got 4 or 5 other items … it’s a pretty cool setup … all the stuff was cleaned, freshly oiled, ready to rock.”

In total, Konopka estimated that his tools were worth about $300.

“It’s really valuable for us,” Konopka said. “I have a young year-and-a-half year old son … it’s really helpful what Pete offered us.”

Konopka is scheduled to leave for duty July 6, and again for a longer term in January.

“I’m showing my spouse stuff, so she can keep the place up while I’m gone,” Konopka said.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - In all, Wall estimated that veterans received about $5,000 worth of tools at the first giveaway.

Another veteran at the tool giveaway was a carpenter with 20 years of experience who was looking for work.

“Now he’s got a couple of tools,” Wall said.

After handing out an estimated $5,000 worth of tools during the first giveaway, Wall came away encouraged about Tools for Troops’ long term success.

“We’ve got no flyers, we’ve got no advertising, nothing, as we speak,” Wall said. “Once we get up a head of speed, by the end of this year we should be in a position to do it once a month.”

Tools for Troops does not have a central location, and Wall said the best way to donate tools is to email the organization.

“We’ll come and collect the tools,” Wall said. “What we’re looking for is for neighborhood associations to collect at one place and we can go around each month and pick them up.”

Those who have tools to donate or would like more information should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: PATRICK MALEE - Eventually, Wall hopes Tools for Troops will hold giveaways once a month.

By Patrick Malee
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