Dozens of Fulton High School students swarmed Thursday into Fulton Manor Care Center, livening up lunch with stuffed bears, knit hats and conversation.
"This is awesome," volunteer Chris Case said, gesturing toward the dining room full of teenagers.
The students were invited by Callaway County Public Administrator Karen Allen to participate in her office's yearly volunteer effort.
"This is wonderful," Allen said. "We thought we'd get like three or four students, so this is great. We're very appreciative."
For the past nine years, the office has toured local nursing homes bearing Valentine's Day gifts of stuffed animals and hats.
"Each year it's grown and we kind of improve the process a little bit each year," Allen said. "So, this year, we decided to involve school kids."
The tradition began with just the CCPA office staff but was expanded to include volunteers so the group could spend more time conversing with residents. This year, volunteers from the Adult Enrichment Center, Fulton FBLA, South Callaway R-2 School District and the social work program at William Woods University are participating.
"I enjoy it to no end," said Mona Schilb, who has tagged along for the past three years. "It means a lot to these people just to be talked to."
This year, the group surprised Fulton Manor Activity Director Jean Oliver with a certificate thanking her for her support of the annual tradition.
"They just love it," Oliver said of the bear giveaway. "The smiles on their faces — I think it's a nice thing for the community."
In past years, Oliver would escort the group from room to room to meet all of the residents.
"She will literally go with us to every room," Allen said. "That's why we wanted to recognize her. Normally we come with four or five people, and we don't have these numbers. Ever since we started she's done that."
Today, volunteers are planning stops at Valley Park in Holts Summit and Riverview Nursing Home.