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San Jacinto Valley sends valentines to Loma Linda veterans

Nine-year-old Elyana Giles wanted to create a meaningful card to contribute to the Valentines for Vets program.
All those that were colored, crafted and collected from boxes placed at various locations were recently delivered to the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda. The San Jacinto Community Builders oversees the program.
Elyana Giles shows the valentine card she made for a veteran during a Tuesday, Feb. 5, program at the Valle Vista branch library. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, contributing photographer)
Some of the valentines that were colored and placed in the Valentines for Vets box at the Hemet Public Library. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, contributing photographer)
Sound The gallery will resume in seconds A Valentines for Vets box and invitation to participate at the Hemet Public Library was one of several used to collect several hundred cards that will be shared with patients at the Jerry L. Pettis Memorial VA Medical Center in Loma Linda. (Photo by Diane A. Rhodes, contributing photographer)
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During a youth program day at the Valle Vista branch of the Riverside County Library System, Elyana put markers to folded pink paper with plastic hearts glued to the outside and wrote the following messages inside: “Thank you veterans for your service” and “Your hearts are golden.” She drew several golden hearts as well.
“My grandpa is an Air Force veteran,” said the Little Lake Elementary School fourth-grader, who lives with her mother and grandparents. “He literally kind of raised me.”
Emil Giles served during the Vietnam War, from 1963-1967. He takes Elyana to the library often and she said they haven’t missed one special program since moving to the area about two years ago.
“We always come to the library for about an hour – we both have a real love of books and reading,” said Giles, 73.
The valentine collection program was launched more than 20 years ago by Dianne Verdugo, a Valle Vista resident since 1972. A supporter of veterans causes, she wanted the program to bring awareness to the libraries and all they have to offer.
Verdugo served on the Friends of the Valle Vista Library board for 25 years and was program chair in 1980. She thought it would be a good idea to incorporate something she had read in a “Dear Abby” column into the library’s programs.
“Abby always said that sending valentines to our veterans was a special way of remembering them and I thought so too,” she said. “I felt it was something we could do as a community.”
She put a decorated box at the library and invited community groups to participate by dropping off cards that would be delivered to veterans. At first, she collected about 1,000.
A few years ago, Verdugo decided to start focusing on a library program that highlights local history and began her “Moments in Time” monthly lecture series. This meant having to give up some of her other projects, such as the annual valentines.
When San Jacinto Community Builders’ president Lynn Peterson heard about that, she offered to have her nonprofit organization take over the project.
“She said they didn’t want to see something so important come to an end so I explained to them how I had done it and gave them some examples,” Verdugo said.
Peterson said the group decorated boxes and put them at local libraries, as well as the Hemet-San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce office.
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“We always have a nice turnout and collect several hundred valentines,” Peterson said.
This has become one of the group’s three major annual projects. Another is its Hamburger Bash that benefits San Jacinto schools. This year’s event will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 9 at North Mountain Middle School.
“Our purpose is to do good in the community and meet our community’s needs,” Peterson said.
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