BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Joni Bennet was busy Thursday getting boxes of Valentine's Day goodies ready to be delivered to soldiers in Afghanistan.
The boxes were filled with colorful homemade valentines, chocolate covered candy and stuffed animals.
It was just a small portion of the amount of items she has ready to give out to current and recovering soldiers.
"My garage is filled with stuff like this," said Bennett. "We've sent over some items already. We're sending more (Friday), and we'll be sending more next week.
"This is just a part of Hearts for Heroes."
Bennett, who's married to Lt. Col. Buck Bennett of the Georgia Army National Guard, started the Hearts for Heroes program four years ago to encourage locals to thank service members.
The valentines display a message or design showing how much the sender appreciates the work of soldiers. People also donate candy and new this year, stuffed animals.
Every year a party is held for the soldiers in Fort Stewart's long-term rehabilitation program at the Warrior's Transition Battalion. The program has grown in size, Bennett said. Last year, the party at Fort Stewart featured 8,000 valentines and 500 pounds of candy.
The party this year will be held Thursday.
After the party, more items will be taken to soldiers at Fort Gordon's Warriors Transition Battalion and to a burn and spinal care Unit in Tampa Bay, Fla. They also will be sent to Afghanistan.
"It's just a way to show how much we appreciate those who served and those who are currently serving," said Bennett. "Our community really steps up and supports this for the military."
The most important aspect of the program is the homemade valentines, she said. It means a lot to the soldiers when they see a homemade card, which are more personable, Bennett said, adding she will also accept store bought cards.
"It's something from the heart," she said. "We want it to be something made with their own hands."
Homemade valentine cards, candy and stuffed animals can be delivered to the guest services desk at the Glynn Place Mall - in front of Belks - Color Me Happy Pottery Studio, 1426 Newcastle St., Brunswick, Seaquels Boutique, 1407 Newcastle St., Brunswick, and Brand Mortgage Co., 621 Ocean Blvd., St. Simons Island.
Wednesday is the deadline to drop off an item.