“Valentine’s Day for Veterans” Community Service Day scheduled for January 29

On January 29, a large group of volunteers will meet again at the Red Bank Community Center to make Valentine’s Day cards for veterans.

This special began in 1989 when former Red Bank High School teacher Linda “Link” Sparks assigned her students the task of writing a friendly letter of thanks on Valentine’s Day to the three veterans of Red Bank High School.

The following year, the fathers, brothers and neighbors of several of his students were deployed to the Middle East to serve in Operation Desert Storm. Mrs. Sparks got their addresses and every Friday her students wrote them friendly letters. On Valentine’s Day, the students made them valentines. When the veterans returned from overseas, the whole group came to their classroom and thanked the students for writing to them and sending them a Valentine’s Day card.

Ms. Sparks retired in 2014 after thirty-three years of teaching, but her Valentine’s Day efforts for veterans continue to this day. The first year after she retired and had no more students to help her, Sparks, her husband and daughter created and sent over 400 Valentine’s Day cards. Realizing the enormity of the project, Sparks’ daughter went in search of volunteers. “The following year she asked for help on Facebook and our community opened their arms and embraced this little program,” Sparks said.

The Valentine’s Day recipient list for veterans now has nearly 1,200 veterans — 500 cards go to individual veterans and 700 cards go to various veteran organizations. To meet every demand, more than fifty volunteers attend one of two Community Service Days at Red Bank’s Joe Glasscock Community Center each year. Participants also volunteer for a stuffing day, where all cards, children’s letters and the overview are organized into envelopes and boxes. Different people come to work on different days.

“Each homemade card includes an original poem written by a Hamilton County student and a letter of appreciation from an elementary school student,” Sparks said. “We ask each child to include the return address from school on their letter so that the veteran can write them a note. Also, the person making the card writes the veterans a short letter or note.

Sparks said she received boxes full of thank you notes from veterans, many of whom say this is the first time they have been thanked for their service. Some of the notes were very touching and Sparks shared them with his students so they would know how much their words meant to a treasured veteran. It also posts the letters received during community service days so that volunteers can see that what they are doing is important.

“I’m very proud of Valentines for Veterans: Operation Love,” said Sparks. “I think it touched a lot of lives, especially some treasured veterans. I am convinced that each of us can do something to help these men and women who have sworn to defend this country at the cost of their lives. I can say “Thank you” by making homemade cards. What can others do?

If you would like to volunteer and participate in Valentine’s Day for Veterans, the next Community Service Day will be Saturday, January 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Joe Glasscock Community Center at 3620 Tom Weathers Drive in Red Bank. More details can be found on Facebook @LinkRaulstonSparks.

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