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Congressman hopes to collect thousands of valentines for veterans one last time

Puyallup Herald - 2/3/2020

Feb. 3--Maplewood Elementary principal Susan Walton said she'll miss annual visits from Congressman Denny Heck to cut hearts out of construction paper and paste lace trim along their edges.

"We love it. We feel honored," Walton said recently. "I tear up every year. It's a precious little gift, and I'm really sad."

Heck, a Democrat representing Washington's10th District, started his Valentines for Veterans program eight years ago. The goal is to show veterans and first responders how grateful the community is for their service. Thousands of students have created more than 40,000 valentines over the years, with an expected 10,000 more this year, Heck said.

Heck announced his retirement in December, making February the program's final year. The congressman said he will miss handing out the student-made, paper hearts to seniors and watching their faces.

"It's seeing that even in their advanced years, they can have their hearts touched by this little gesture," he told The Herald.

Paul Nimz, executive director of Puyallup senior home Life Care Center, said the program is so special because veterans are not expecting it. They hang the cards up on bulletin boards or place them on nightstands.

One first grader drew a superhero cape on a picture of a veteran, and Walton believes that's how we should see all public servants. Walton's father and three brothers served in the military, so seeing Valentine's Day become a day for veterans is special to her.

"Valentine's Day for elementary students is the biggest day with all the cards and candy," Walton said. "So for them to see it becoming about veterans, it's big."

Every February, Walton sends her brothers a photo of the students' hearts, and they are shocked people are celebrating those in service on the holiday.

"When they know that there are students doing things, they are really touched," she said. "It's easy to forget vets except for special times, but they're not just special on Veterans Day. They're special all the time."

Heck said the program is a reminder to continue to fight for those in uniform. The Department of Veterans Affairs disputed a science panel's recommendation this week that favored including Agent Orange-related conditions as illness or diseases covered by the VA.

"That is a painful reminder that we still have a lot to do," Heck said.

Get involved

People who would like to participate in the program can drop off valentines at Heck's offices. Teachers and school districts can call the offices for large pickups. The office is accepting cards until Feb. 12.

-- Pierce County: Lakewood City Hall, 6000 Main St. SW, Suite 3B, 253-533-8332

-- Thurston/Mason County: Third floor of Lacey City Hall, 420 College St. SE, 360-459-8514

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