By Maggie Gordon

STAMFORD — U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., spent Monday afternoon crouching around art tables at K.T. Murphy Elementary School, assisting third-grade students as they traced, cut and colored Valentine’s Day cards for local veterans.

This is the fourth year Himes has created cards with local students as part of the Valentines for Vets program, during which the children’s cards are taken to a local V.A. hospital, as well as Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport and other service organizations. Himes sits on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in Congress.

“Every year I’ve been in office we’ve done it,” Himes said as he sat next to K.T. Murphy third-grader Raphy Benjamin who asked the congressman to “Tell President Obama I said hi.”

“It’s fun because they become aware of what the veterans do. And they get to ask veterans what their life was like, and their eyes light up,” Himes said. “In the last 10 years, the wars have been fought at such a distance, and by such a tiny percentage of American families that people don’t think about it. So it’s nice to focus on them.”

Many of the 18 students in Catie Ramsey’s art class Monday afternoon are familiar with veterans, after learning about their importance every November dating as far back as pre-school, 8-year-old Debbie Alcantara said matter-of-factly as she traced a heart onto a piece of white paper.

“They kept us safe from danger, so we should do something nice for them,” Debbie said. “I hope when they see mine, they say, ’How nice.’ ”

Debbie drew a large heart, before sketching a section of stars in the top left corner and red-and-white bars across the rest of the card, making it look like the American flag. Even before she had the details finished on the front, she knew exactly what message she wanted to share with the veteran who receives her card.

“Dear veteran, we are thinking of you on Valentine’s Day and all you have done for our country,” she read. In being thankful for her freedom, Debbie said there was one thing about America that she favored above others.

“I’m thankful for our food here,” she said.

Her friend Raphy said Wi-Fi connectivity is something to be thankful for.

This is the first year the school’s art classes have participated in the program, Ramsey said, but several K.T. Murphy classes have undertaken the effort on their own in the past. This year, the school plans to send about 150 valentine cards to local veterans.

“It’s fun, because we get to make something, but it’s even more fun because we know it’s going to make someone happy,” student Jayden Carter as he began working on his red, white and blue valentine.; 203-964-2229;