Three years ago Darlene Ake decided on something different for Valentine’s Day

 Three years ago Darlene Ake decided on something different for Valentine’s Day.

Instead of swapping cards and candy, Ake wanted her Pre-K students at Wewahitchka Elementary School to feel and experience something with a bit more substance.

Cards and candy had their place, but Valentine’s Day and the outpouring of love it symbolizes, Ake figured, was about something deeper.

She focused on the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society and the animals it sustains and, hopefully, places in new homes.

The Humane Society, Ake noticed, was consistently in need to assistance in so many forms.

“They really need the help,” Ake said.

So, Ake and her students began what has in 2014 become a tradition, traveling on Valentine’s Day to Port St. Joe.

Around a pizza picnic at Frank Pate Park, the students visited the Humane Society last Friday to drop off badly needed supplies – including food and toys – and spend some quality time with the animals.

“We don’t swap cards,” Ake said. “We give our love to the animals.”

And instead of parents forking over the dollars for cards and candy for a class of 27-28 children, they purchase some of the essentials that make the Humane Society tick.

Last Friday as the buses pulled away for Wewahitchka, the children and their parents had left behind a pile of supplies that will help the Humane Society stretch valuable resources.

The kids provide another present: the jubilant smiles, kind hands and loving touch of wonder that arrives with the meeting of small animal and small child.

“You never know, we might even get an adoption out of this,” said Melody Townsend, director of the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society.

Townsend said the animals, living in constrained circumstances out of most human contact, thrive with the human touch, as evidenced last week by the wagging tales and tongues.

“This exposes the dogs and puppies to the kids, helps them socialize to humans,” Townsend said.

And in turn she and her largely volunteer staff have the opportunity to expose the children to the shelter and its operations that exist more than 20 miles away from the children’s school.

“We get to expose the kids to the animals and educate the kids on the care of pets,” Townsend said. “Hopefully, we can get some volunteers and we can teach them about what we are doing at the Humane Society.”