Hutchinson Valentine's Day project ‘sweetens’ day for widowers and widows

Valentine’s Day can be a little sour for people whose loved ones have passed away.

But in Hutchinson, a growing operation is making it a little sweeter again.

Sandy Waldron died in 2018, more than five decades after marrying Jim. So when Valentine’s Day rolled around four years later, the widower wilted with sadness.

"She died in February and of course, I was kind of down and out feeling sorry for myself [in 2023]," Jim Waldron told FOX 9.

He says he tried to block it out, but his mood only improved when an unexpected visitor made a colorful delivery of flowers, candy and handmade knick-knacks.

"I tried to be not emotional, but when she left, then I got my recliner and I just lost it," he said. "I mean, it was just – what a nice, an angel."

Waldron was one of 50 widows and widowers to get special deliveries in the first year of Hutchinson’s Valentine’s Day Widow Outreach.

Kayleen Jensen heard about the original project in North Carolina and felt compelled to bring it to Minnesota.

"Sometimes Valentine's Day is just hard for people," she said. "And I think to be reminded that you're loved and cared about, even if your spouse is gone, it's just a wonderful a gift that we can give them that day."

Volunteers work to make the Valentines Day project in Hutchinson possible for widowers.

The surprise starts with nominations from friends or family members, and Tanya Vacek quietly submitted her mother-in-law’s story last year.

Mary Kay Vacek lost her husband Virgil in 2021. His funeral was on Valentine’s Day.

"We kind of knew that was going to be tough all around," Tanya Vacek said.

Tom and Karlene Ulrich walked up to Mary Kay’s door in the early evening.

"You kind of think, ‘what are they peddling? What are they going to try to sell me?’" Mary Kay Vacek said. "So no, I had no idea. But what a wonderful surprise."

"To deliver those flowers in that bag and just to see her and her face and, and shed tears, I mean, just to be there and hug, shed tears, share memories," said Karlene Ulrich.

"Tears can turn to a smile," said Mary Kay Vacek. "You start thinking of the good times you had together and kind of makes it a little bit easier."

Jensen is expanding the project to 125 recipients this year, as volunteers have stepped up to make deliveries.

People and businesses around town are pitching in with gifts.

And a GoFundMe page is nearing its fundraising goal. 

All of which means Valentine’s Day will be a little warmer for a lot of folks who might otherwise feel their hearts frozen over.