As part of his annual Valentines for Veterans tribute, U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, visited Maplewood Elementary School in Puyallup on Friday to collect handmade cards from area schoolchildren to distribute to local veterans and active service members.
The purpose of the program is to honor those who have served or are currently serving in the U.S. armed forces, Heck said.
The goal is “to remember to appreciate people who have sacrificed for us,” he said.
During the visit, Heck visited three classrooms of third- and fourth-graders, where students were hard at work cutting, gluing, coloring and writing on pink and red paper adorned with glitter and hearts.
When Heck asked students if they had family members who are veterans or currently serving in the military, about 60 percent raised their hands. He told them all to go home and say thank you.
“I’m really grateful to each and every one of you for putting in the effort and the work to send your thoughts and messages to these people who have done so much for all of us,” Heck said, making his way from table to table in one of the classrooms. “Your words will mean something to them.”
I’m really grateful to each and every one of you for putting in the effort and the work to send your thoughts and messages to these people who have done so much for all of us.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck
Hope Ernst, who teaches fourth grade at Maplewood, said her students looked forward to the project.
“The kids have been so excited,” said Ernst, who noted that Heck’s visit offered some extra time for in-class arts and crafts.
Maplewood has 438 students, beginning with preschoolers as young as 3, up through students in sixth grade. All Maplewood students made cards, and each classroom sent two students to the front office to deliver their creations to Heck.
In all, about 20 children posed for a photo with Heck and a big bag stuffed with their Valentines.
“We were super excited to have him,” Maplewood Principal Susan Walton said. “Every single teacher wanted him in their class, so it was kind of hard to decide what classes the congressman would go into. I loved how he talked to the kids, and he went to every table.”
This is the fourth annual Valentines for Veterans drive organized by Heck’s office, which collects thousands of Valentine’s cards from local schools and community members. The cards ultimately are distributed to local veterans and active military members throughout the region, including those at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Heck also visited the nursing home Life Care Center of Puyallup on Monday to deliver handmade valentines to veterans who are residents at the facility.
In 2015, the Valentines for Veterans drive generated more than 5,000 cards. Even more are expected this year.
LaTasha Wortham, director of Heck’s district office, said this annual project, patterned after similar drives in other states, is especially appropriate given the presence of JBLM and so many military residents and retirees in Heck’s 10th Congressional District.
“It’s really important for the kids because it helps them understand what veterans contribute to society,” Wortham said. “The teachers are able to actually use it as an education piece to say: What does it mean to thank a veteran? What does it mean to salute a veteran? How do veterans make a difference?”
More than a dozen schools in the area have signed up for this year’s Valentines for Veterans drive, and students of all ages can participate. Those looking to participate can drop off valentines at Heck’s district offices in Tacoma or Olympia by Sunday (Feb. 12).
For the community, Heck said his Valentine wish is simple.
“Remember to tell the people in our lives,” said Heck, “our family and ones who are close to us, that we love them.”
Natalie DeFord, a Tacoma-based freelance writer and member of MediaLab at Pacific Lutheran University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valentines for Veterans
The following Puyallup schools participated in the Valentines for Veterans program: Aylen Junior High, Ballou Junior High, Firgrove Elementary, Maplewood Elementary, Fruitland Elementary, Hunt Elementary, Zeiger Elementary and Puyallup High School.