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Conn. town in mourning inundated with gifts, money

By PAT EATON-ROBB and JESSE WASHINGTON, Associated Press Published: December 23, 2012
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Newtown resident Amy Mangold, director of the local Parks and Recreation department, attended with her 12-year-old daughter, Cory. She acknowledged that most people here could afford to buy their own gifts but said “this means people really care about what's happening here. They know we need comfort and want to heal.”

She pointed to two people across the room. “Look at that hug, that embrace. This is bringing people together. Some people haven't been getting out since this happened. It's about people being together. I see people coming together and healing.”

Many people have placed flowers, candles and stuffed animals at makeshift memorials that have popped up all over town. Others are stopping by the Edmond Town Hall to drop off food, toys or cash. About 60,000 teddy bears were donated, said Ann Benoure, a social services caseworker who was working at the town hall.

“There's so much stuff coming in,” Mahoney said. “To be honest, it's a bit overwhelming; you just want to close the doors and turn the phone off.”

Mahoney said the town of some 27,000 with a median household income of more than $111,000 plans to donate whatever is left over to shelters or other charities.

Sean Gillespie of Colchester, who attended Sandy Hook Elementary, and Lauren Minor, who works at U.S. Foodservice in Norwich, came from Calvary Chapel in Uncasville with a car filled with food donated by U.S. Foodservice. But they were sent elsewhere because the refrigerators in Newtown were overflowing with donations.

“We'll find someplace,” Gillespie said. “It won't go to waste.”

In addition to the town's official fund, other private funds have been set up. Former Sandy Hook student Ryan Kraft, who once baby-sat Lanza, set up a fund with other alumni that has collected almost $150,000. It is earmarked for the Sandy Hook PTA.

Rabbi Shaul Praver of Congregation Adath Israel is raising money for a memorial to the victims. He said one man wrote a check for $52,000 for the project.

Several colleges, including the University of Connecticut, have set up scholarship funds to pay for the educations of students at Sandy Hook and the relatives of the victims.

Town officials have not decided yet what to do with all the money. A board of Newtown community leaders is being established to determine how it is most needed and will be best utilized, said Isabel Almeida with the local United Way, which has waived all its administrative fees related to the fund.

She said some have wondered about building a new school for Sandy Hook students if the town decides to tear the school down, but that decision has not been made.

And while the town is grateful for all the support, Almeida said, it has no more room for those gifts. Instead, she encouraged people to donate to others in memory of the Sandy Hook victims.

“Send those teddy bears to a school in your community or an organization that serves low-income children, who are in need this holiday season, and do it in memory of our children,” she said.