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Column: Wondering how to say ‘thank you’?

  • The Charlotte Observer illustration -- Dean Neitman

  • Becky Sabky. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

For the Valley News
Published: 2/8/2020 10:20:16 PM
Modified: 2/8/2020 10:20:14 PM

This all started with an Ann Landers column. In 1989, the legendary advice columnist asked her readers to mail cards to veterans for Valentine’s Day. I was reminded of the column by a friend 15 years later as I was going through a break-up in February. I knew my Valentine’s Day was going to be a lonely one and I needed to channel my energy elsewhere. I picked up construction paper, colorful markers, a pair of scissors and went to work.

For more than 10 years, I’ve been making homemade valentines for patients at the White River Junction VA Medical Center. There are no (living) veterans in my family, nor do I interact with veterans on a regular basis. (As a stay-at-home mom and writer, I don’t interact with anyone on a regular basis.) But I’ve always appreciated those who have served our country, and writing cards seemed like an easy way to show my support.

While my efforts started as a solo project, I quickly recruited dozens of Upper Valley friends to help. In this past decade, I estimate that we’ve created more than a thousand handmade valentines for our neighbors at the VA. This year, we’ll add a hundred more to that number.

Over the years, crafting valentines has turned into quite a social event. We’ve had get-togethers at my home, the local pizza joint and even the back nook at a favorite bar. Everyone brings supplies, from scissors to stickers, and we fold, stamp and doodle away while we sip cocktails and nibble on appetizers. Truth be told, we’ve ruined more than one valentine with a splash of beer or a drop of ketchup.

The cards aren’t fancy. (The VA’s guidelines ask that nothing be glued to the cards, such as small candies, feathers or, especially, glitter, which is a real nuisance in a medical center setting.) They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, but the sentiment is always consistent. We write the cards to thank veterans for their service. To remind them that they’re appreciated. To offer a little color to their hospital room.

After the cards are completed, I bring them to the Voluntary Service Office at the medical center, where I’ve organized my delivery with the same lovely volunteer coordinator for years. Every once in a while I’ll be allowed to deliver the cards personally. Otherwise, the cards are included on patients’ meal trays. As I walk from room to room, I typically am overcome with emotion. The patients’ medical needs and the seriousness of their conditions vary. But their gratitude for the cards remains the same.

Thankfully, the VA receives many cards from local folks showing their support. Many are handmade by schoolchildren. But every time I leave the hospital, I can’t help but think I should be doing more for our veterans. More volunteering. More acknowledgment. More appreciation for their service.

Last year, I brought my 2½-year-old son along. He didn’t deliver the valentines in person. This would have been way more than he could handle emotionally. But he did accompany me through the hospital to the Voluntary Service Office in Building 8.

He had lots of questions. He wanted to learn about wheelchairs and security officers and hand sanitizer. But mostly, he wondered who “lived” in the hospital.

“Heroes,” I responded, and his eyes lit up.

I need to be advocating more for our veterans. I need to be doing more than an annual Valentine’s Day card drive. But on that cold February morning, talking to my son about some real local superheroes was a start.

Editor’s note: Valentine’s Day cards for veterans being treated at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction may be mailed to: VAMC-135, 215 N. Main St., White River Junction, Vt. 05009. For more information about volunteering at the VA, call the Voluntary Service Office at 802-295-9363 ext. 5391 or ext. 5392. Becky Sabky lives in Norwich.

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