Valentine’s for veterans: Volunteers show their appreciation for vets

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From the kindness of their hearts: Volunteers set up four tables worth of donated gifts, from chocolates to stuffed animals to books.
Giving back: Veteran John Ortiz took home a stuffed bear and a personalized valentine card.
Personal touch: Volunteer Sally Ohanian decorated cards with messages of gratitude to veterans.
A heartfelt thank you: Veterans decorated a wall with thank you notes to hospital staff.
In the mood: Local songstress Michelle DellaFave crooned classic tunes that tugged at veteran’s heart strings.

Call it a love letter to military veterans.

Volunteers handed out dozens of stuffed animals, chocolates, and toiletries to veterans at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fort Hamilton on Feb. 14. The Valentine’s For Veterans event, hosted by the Patrick L. Gualtieri Veterans Assistance Fund, showered patriots with gifts and kind words with handcrafted Valentine’s Day cards. It was a heartwarming experience, said one veteran.

“The event was beautiful,” said Brownsville resident Ralph Ferguson, an army vet who served in Vietnam from 1975 to ’77. “We don’t get enough people to come and do that for us. I sure appreciated it.”

Hundreds of seasoned veterans sifted through piles of goodies and songstress Michelle DellaFave crooned soulful tunes that tugged on the heartstrings of vets. Ferguson was thrilled with the bounty and went home with a teddy bear he named Little Smoky, a pair of gloves, a pair of socks, a brush, and more. It was a lovely gesture for the often-forgotten vets, said Ferguson.

“A lot of the veterans I talk to that use the hospitals don’t have families, and the holidays can be hard for us,” he said. “So that’s really sweet that people actually think of us, try and help us, and be a part of our lives.”

The annual event was founded by the late army veteran Patrick “Pat” Gualtieri and is continued by his widow. Several of the event’s volunteers came together through support groups after loosing a loved one who was in the military. The event carries on their memory and is the least that locals can do to show their support for servicemen and women, said one volunteer.

“This is just a small token of our appreciation and our gratitude,” said Marine Parker Sally Ohanian. “I don’t think all the veterans get the credit they deserve so it was so wonderful to see their faces light up when they realized this was all for them.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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