By SUSAN DUNNE, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
8:43 PM CST, December 20, 2012
The thoughts and prayers of millions have supported Newtown since last Friday's Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the open hearts have been matched by open wallets and acts of kindness, great and small.
From cookies and coats to yoga classes and class supplies, massages and meals, pets and pies are among the donations from a world that wants to help Newtown.
"Teddy bears, teddy bears, teddy bears and teddy bears," says Carl Samuelson, the assistant director of parks and recreation in Newtown. He supervises a 20,000-square-foot garage where items sent to the town are being stored. Also, "hams, turkeys, flowers, trees, plants, books, everything, from all over the world."
And the pace is picking up.
"We've had mental health providers offering their services for free. We've had people offer to make meals and deliver them. To give massages. To help set up the new school," says Maria Dynia of Connecticut United Way. "Someone offered to build a balloon arch."
Many of the good deeds appear to have been inspired by a tweet last weekend from NBC News journalist Ann Curry: "Imagine if all of us committed to 20 acts of kindness to honor each child lost in Newtown. I'm in. If you are RT. #20Acts." Curry's number 20 was based on the number of children who died in the massacre. It was later amended to 26, to include the women who died at the school. The 26 Acts of Kindness movement grows every hour.
The list gets longer every day of people trying to help.
The Newtown General Store offered free coffee Wednesday, courtesy of Mary Martin of Beaumont, Texas, and on Thursday paid for by Floor Supply & Equipment Co. of Gardena, Calif.
The Milford Toys 'R' Us delivered $19,000 worth of toys to Newtown, paid for by a Louisiana businessman.
The Brass Mill Center mall in Waterbury held a school-supplies drive this week, as did the Farmington public schools.
Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford collected superhero capes for the Sandy Hook students.
The Starbucks in Newtown has become so accustomed to offers of foods and drinks for the town that it set up a "pay it forward" voice mailbox.
The Build A Bear Workshop in the Danbury Fair Mall has organized a drive to put a teddy bear on the desk of every Sandy Hook pupil when school resumes for them in January at Chalk Hill School in Monroe. Also, the Connecticut Parent-Teacher Association is collecting paper snowflakes to decorate the school in Monroe. They can be sent to CT PTSA, 60 Connelly Parkway, Building 12, Suite 104, Hamden, CT 06514.
Perhaps, the most heartbreaking donation is funeral services. "[About] 160 funeral directors are mobilized in the state. They are volunteering their time to help out," says Diana Duksa-Kurz of Newington, past president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association.
At least one funeral home, Honan, which is working with 11 Newtown families, and possibly other funeral homes, are not charging for their services to the Newtown families.
"Our profession is based on helping others," Duksa-Kurz said. "When serving a family that has lost a child, it's a way for us to give back."
Duksa-Kurz said that other funeral directors from around the country have offered to fly out at their own expense to help.
Some of the good deeds that have captured headlines include New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz's visit to the family of Jack Pinto, a 6-year-old victim of the tragedy who was laid to rest wearing a replica of a Cruz jersey; and the NBC TV show "The Voice" had all its contestants and coaches sing Leonard Cohen's song "Hallelujah" in honor of the victims.
Want To Help, Too?
United Way's Dynia says that there is no central place for people to go to donate non-monetary goods and services. "They're still figuring that out. It's really hard to know because it's all so new."
A few places, Dynia says, are becoming central clearing houses for information, donations and relief, especially the website, http://www.211ct.org. That website urges potential volunteers not to just show up in Newtown unless they are contacted.
Jim Siemianowski, of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, says that so many people have volunteered mental-health services for the survivors and families that he now encourages them to volunteer through http://www.211ct.org.
"It's becoming somewhat overwhelming, the management of all the donations," Siemianowski said. "It's kind of a balancing act between these very well-intentioned folks and where you can plug them in, and will it be of assistance."
Kyle Lyddy, a 25-year-old lifelong resident of Newtown, set up a "We Are Newtown" page on Facebook. The busy and fact-filled page, which now has more than 17,000 "likes," has become a stopping place for people looking to send a message or other offerings.
"It's been completely overwhelming, a surreal experience, this outpouring of support from all around the world," said Lyddy, who was a team manager for the UConn men's basketball team, and wrote a book about it, "From My Seat."
Lyddy said he set up the page to cast a positive light on his hometown, and to streamline information about donating. "Hundreds of different organizations have been created in the last few days in town," he said. "When people are looking for things to do and how to help, I want them to find the most appropriate [recipients]."
Lyddy said that a man from Rhode Island contacted him to send 2,500 teddy bears to a vigil in town last weekend. "I hooked him up with the Newtown Hook and Ladder Fire Department," he said.
Many items from Lyddy's Facebook page tell stories: "Starbucks in Newtown had a donor from Philadelphia today to pay for the morning orders. Soccer coaches from New Jersey came to help organize games for kids. One person purchased 26 Christmas trees to honor the victims and for the town to decorate. A local group came and sang carols under the Sandy Hook Christmas tree."
Other stories Lyddy tells are more dramatic. "One woman stopped everything she was doing on Saturday and went to the airport. She told the airlines what she was doing. They charged her $10 for the flight to come to Newtown," he says. "Not knowing anybody, she went to a local facility to help."
That local facility was Newtown Youth Academy, a private sports and fitness center. Bess Donofrio of the Academy said that organization is "a comfort hub, at this point."
"Lots of clients and members have been gracious enough to step aside to give up their rental times on the turf and in the field house to accommodate people in the town and students," Donofrio said. "There has been a huge response."
Donated food items have been given to the families of Sandy Hook students and to fire stations, and the flowers to schools, cemeteries and senior living facilities.
Samuelson said he has no suggestions about what people should send. "I would never tell someone how to grieve. Everybody grieves in their own way," he said. The address to send items is Messages of Condolence for Newtown, P.O. Box 3700, Newtown, CT 06470.
Samuelson pointed out, however, a link on http://www.newtown-ct.gov/ to donate to the Park Gift Fund.
Lyddy said that We Are Newtown has produced T-shirts. Every Sandy Hook child will receive one on the first day of school. Others are being sold to raise money.
Elsewhere On Facebook
More stories about acts of kindness are being posted each day on websites and on Facebook.
Dawn Grande Briggs, of Newtown, posted on the JetBlue Airways Facebook page.
"When I boarded my JetBlue flight, I knew that the shooting occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary and not our school, but I also thought that one teacher was injured in the foot. ... After takeoff, it occurred to me to listen to CNN on Sirius before we had access to TV coverage and this is when I learned that there were more than 20 deaths, mostly children. You can just imagine my response. Moments later a wonderful woman by the name of Judy from NJ was sitting with me and offering her rosary beads which I happily accepted and wrapped them around my mother's prayer card (and she refused to have me return them at the end of the flight. ... I will cherish them forever). Next, a JetBlue flight attendant arrived with tissue, the offer to do anything to help, and then to say that the Captain/Pilot wanted to know if I had a ride home as he would like to drive me home since he lives in a neighboring town in CT. He didn't think I should drive myself home. The ultimate act of kindness happened when, toward the end of the flight, I was asked to move to the front row of the plane and was met by 3 JetBlue executives and 3 customs agents, all with tears in their eyes, who escorted me past a line that would have taken hours to get through, so that I could get to my children and home in Newtown."