DENHAM SPRINGS — This Valentine’s Day, Seventh Ward Elementary students are sending their love to veterans across the state.
Students at the Denham Springs school recently took part in Project L.O.V.E., an initiative started by the Department of Veterans Affairs that asks for people to write letters or send gifts to any of the state’s veterans homes.
Seventh Ward did a similar project around the holidays when the Student Council organized a school-wide sock drive and Christmas card project. In that project, students collected more than 500 pairs of socks that went to a local youth homeless shelter and wrote around 300 letters for senior citizens across the state.
This time, students shifted their focus to those who have served the country.
For this project, the Student Council and Beta Club teamed up to organize a collection drive at the school in which students donated more than 300 travel-sized toiletry items to be delivered to five veterans homes across the state.
Additionally, fourth and fifth grade students put their thoughts on paper by writing letters and poems to veterans. The Book Club also wrote Valentine’s Day cards.
All told, the school wrote more than 100 letters, poems, and cards.
“The students really got into this project,” said Student Council co-sponsor Sherry Wentzel, adding that the clubs expanded their project to “Project Love a Veteran.”
Students gathered in the library on Thursday, Feb. 4, to place their cards and letters in envelopes for shipping. As they jotted down addressed, they received a special visit from retired Col. Joey Strickland, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.
Strickland thanked the students for their engagement with veterans and explained some of the background of Project L.O.V.E., which stands for, “Love Our Veterans Everyday.” The idea for the name actually came from a young girl in Livingston Parish, Strickland said.
According to Strickland, Project L.O.V.E. was launched last year when the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown of all long-term care facilities, including Louisiana’s state-run veterans homes.
Homes in Jackson, Monroe, Bossier City, Reserve, and Jennings have more than 700 veterans who have fought in several wars, and suddenly, they were shut off from the rest of the world.
“When the pandemic hit, we had to lock the homes down and quarantine our veterans,” Strickland told students. “Families were not able to come see their veterans like they normally do, and we were concerned about them getting depressed and lonely and missing their families.”
Strickland said his office reached out to airline companies and other organizations asking people to write letters to the veterans “so they wouldn’t feel alone or sad or quarantined.”
So far, Project L.O.V.E. has been a tremendous success: Strickland said “hundreds and thousands” of letters come in almost every week, with veterans receiving as many as 10 letters each time.
A Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran himself, Strickland said he hopes the letter-writing continues.
“The goal is to keep veterans connected with the outside and let them know that they are loved and appreciated for serving our country and for sacrificing,” Strickland said. “A lot of these veterans are wounded, and a lot of them are heroes… real heroes.
“We want them to feel appreciated and know that LA folks love what they do and honor them everyday.”
During his visit, Strickland gave each student a “challenge coin,” which are tokens given to servicemen and servicewomen that bear the emblems of all five military branches. He also urged students to continue writing to veterans, “especially on special days” such as Veterans Day or Memorial Day.
“Don’t just do it one time: Do it three of four times a year,” Strickland said. “It’ll make you feel good. And you will actually have done something not only for your state, but for your country.”
Louisianans can address their letters to Project L.O.V.E. and send them to one or more of the state’s five veterans homes. The homes’ addresses are as follows:
— Louisiana Veterans Home: 4739 Highway 10, Jackson, LA, 70748
— Northeast Louisiana Veterans Home: 6700 Highway 165 North, Monroe, LA, 71203
— Northwest Louisiana Veterans Home: 3130 Arthur Ray Teague Parkway, Bossier City, LA, 71112
— Southeast Louisiana Veterans Home: 4080 W. Airline Highway, Reserve, LA, 70084
— Southwest Louisiana Veterans Home: 1610 Evangeline Road, Jennings, LA, 70546