More than 100 fourth-graders at Fonda-Fultonville Elementary School got to skip math class Wednesday afternoon to hand out some valentines.
For the past few days, every child in the fourth-grade class has been scribbling away, coloring and composing heartwarming messages — not for little Jimmy or Molly in the desk across the aisle, but for solders in hospital beds.
It was all part of a Valentines for Veterans program newly installed Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara brought to the 111th Assembly District. He dropped off nearly a thousand blank cards at various schools and youth organizations and plans to hand-deliver them to wounded veterans at the Stratton Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Albany today.
He stopped by the elementary school Wednesday afternoon to pick up the kids’ work and was greeted with quite a production. The whole class filed into the gymnasium bleachers fairly twitching with excitement to witness the handover.
Santabarbara asked the kids who enjoyed making valentines and got a hundred raised hands. The atmosphere was pretty light until Jim Yermas, commander of American Legion Post 107 in Amsterdam, explained the impact their cards would have.
“When you’re a veteran and you’re in the hospital,” he said, “your family might not be around. If all of a sudden you get a message from some young American, that’s going to make a big difference.”
Known as Jungle Jim, Yermas served in Vietnam and has spent time in various VA hospitals over the years. He still goes in for regular appointments but said as a long-married man, he’s all set on the valentine front. The younger guys are a different matter.
“A lot of these vets down at the VA don’t get visitors for months,” he said later, out of earshot of the children. “Those are the guys who really need propping up.”
Fourth-grade teacher Meg Hoffman said making the valentines was as beneficial for the kids as it will be for the veterans.
“They had a lot of fun,” she said, “and they’re excited to be out of math class, but [making the valentines] also brought up the subject of military service and what that means. I don’t remember talking about that at their age.”
A handful of kids were called down to read the short lines on their cards. It wasn’t the romantic stuff typically celebrated on the holiday, rather a surprisingly grown-up love of country.
Nine-year-old Zoey Leonard relayed her message: “Thank you veterans for saving our country and helping to keep it free.”
Most were quite similar, with the occasional “Get well soon” thrown in.
It’s a specifically important project for Santabarbara. He served in the military right out of high school and was recently appointed to the Veterans Affairs Committee in the Assembly.
“Valentine’s Day just passes, and we don’t think about the vets,” he said. “It’s good to pause whenever possible and consider what they’ve given.”
He said cards from America’s next generation will be especially meaningful to VA patients since that’s who they joined up to protect.
“I do like math class,” Zoey said, looking around for teachers, “but this was important.”