A group of volunteers will gather at the Community Center in Red Bank to make Valentine cards for veterans on Saturday, Jan. 29. This operation began in 1989 when former Red Bank High School teacher Linda “Link” Sparks gave her students the assignment to write a friendly letter of appreciation on Valentine’s Day to the three veterans on the staff of Red Bank High School.
The following year, several of her students’ dads, brothers and neighbors were deployed to the Middle East to serve in Operation Desert Storm.
Ms. Sparks got their addresses and every Friday her students wrote friendly letters to them. On Valentine’s Day, the students made valentines for them. When the veterans came home from overseas, the entire group came to her classroom and thanked the students for writing them and sending them a Valentine’s Day card.
Ms. Sparks retired in 2014 after 33 years of teaching, but her Valentines for Veterans effort continues to this day. The first year after she retired and no longer had the students to help her, Ms. Sparks, her husband and her daughter made and mailed out over 400 Valentine cards. Realizing the enormity of the project, Ms. Sparks’ daughter went on a search for volunteers. “The next year she asked for help on Facebook and our community opened their arms and embraced this little program,” said Ms. Sparks.
The list of Valentines for Veterans recipients has now grown to almost 1,200 veterans – 500 cards go to individual veterans and 700 cards going to various veterans’ organizations. To fulfill each request, over 50 volunteers participate in one of two community work days each year at the Joe Glasscock Community Center in Red Bank. The participants also volunteer for a stuffing day, in which all of the cards, kids' letters are organized into envelopes and boxes. Different people come to work on different days.
“Every homemade card includes an original poem written by a Hamilton County student and a letter of appreciation from an elementary student,” said Ms. Sparks. “We ask that each child put the school’s return address on their letter so the veteran can write a note back to him or her. Plus, the person who makes the card writes the veterans a short letter or note.”
Ms. Sparks said she has received boxes full of thank you notes from veterans, many of which say that this is the first time they have ever been thanked for their service. Some of the notes were very touching and Ms. Sparks would share them with her students so they would know how much their words meant to a veteran. She also displays the letters received at the community work days so the volunteers can see that what they are doing is important.
“I'm very proud of Valentines for Veterans: Operation Love,” said Ms. Sparks. “I think it has touched a lot of lives, especially some precious veterans. It is my conviction that everyone of us can do something to benefit those men and women who swore an oath to defend this country with their lives. I can say, ‘Thank You’ by making homemade cards. What can other people do?”
If you would like to be a volunteer and participate in Valentines for Veterans, the next community workday is Saturday, Jan. 29, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Joe Glasscock Community Center, 3620 Tom Weathers Dr. in Red Bank. More details can be found on Facebook @LinkRaulstonSparks.