Gestures Of Kindness, Part Five: Support And Strength Continue, From Within Town And Across The Country

(This is the fifth installation of a series of stories that share with Newtown Bee readers special events that continue to take place as Newtown heals following the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook School. It is also a continuation of anecdotes from across the country, of people offering kind gestures on behalf of our town.)

Martin Luther King, Jr, Day was overcast, cold, and punctuated with sleeting rain.

That weather did not stop Allene Troy and her two children, Connor and Kayleigh, from making a series of deliveries to four locations in Newtown after school that afternoon.

With the help of donations from other Newtown families and friends, the Troys were able to make 130 Movie Night gift baskets for the Sandy Hook first responders. The baskets — the base of which were actually popcorn buckets, which were then filled “with funny movies, popcorn and candy for a fun movie night at home,” said Mrs Troy — were delivered to Newtown Police Department, Hook & Ladder’s firehouse, Newtown Volunteer Ambulance Association’s headquarters, and Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue’s main station. The family also planned to bring additional buckets to the state police troopers based in Southbury.

“I came up with the idea one night after watching something funny on TV,” Mrs Troy said on January 28. “It was the first time in weeks that my mind was able to just for an hour get away from the devastating sadness. I thought for our first responders it might be nice for them to do the same, watching some funny movies at home with their families.”

After she came up with the idea, said Mrs Troy, she sent an e-mail to friends and posted a note on Facebook asking for donations from anyone who wanted to be involved in the gesture of kindness. Friends in Newtown and beyond responded immediately, she said, which was how so many baskets were able to be put together for the MLK Day deliveries.


Additional Gestures

Lisa Mazzariello and Danielle Wargo created Helping Hands for Newtown. Mrs Mazzariello, a school teacher in New York City who grew up in Newtown and attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, “posted some stuff on social media about having students create ‘helping hands’ handprints with messages,” said David Plaue, Mrs Mazzariello’s brother-in-law and a Newtown resident. “When the thousands and thousands came in, she and her friends put them together into “quilts of 12” and they are now posted everywhere around the area, including all over the Chalk Hill School in Monroe.”

According to a website maintained by Mrs Mazzariello and Ms Wargo, more than 2,000 of those hands had been hung inside Chalk Hill School/Sandy Hook School by December 30. More than 20 families in Newtown helped organize and volunteer for Helping Hands. Contributions — the individual blocks of handprints that were collated into the 12-block “quilts” — have come in from everywhere. Schools of all levels (preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools, and even colleges and universities) have all sent Helping Hands, as have childcare centers, Girl Scout troops, church groups, children’s museums, and countless families, from Alabama to Michigan, Nevada to Virginia. 

Kathy Medrew contacted The Bee recently, admitting up front that she does not have any connection to Newtown but feeling nevertheless that it is her “duty as a human being to do whatever I can to try to help out your community.”

Ms Medrew created a Facebook tribute site called Twenty Six Seeds of Love for Newtown, started after she wrote a poem out of sadness. It then turned into something else, she said.

“I want to try to help out, and try to spread the seeds of love to honor the 26 angels” who were killed at Sandy Hook School. Ms Medrew is doing this through a CafePress store; www.cafepress.com/twentysixseedsoflovefornewtown offers T-shirts in dozens of styles, the majority of which feature 26 seeds, each with the name of a victim. Many designs include a tree, with 26 leaves in place of seeds. There is also a tote bag and a mug option.

Profits from the sale of every T-shirt, tote bag, or mug through this particular “storefront” are being donated directly to The Sandy Hook School Support Fund, “and never touch my hands,” Ms Medrew pointed out. “I’m trying to spread the word about the store so that I can raise as much money as possible for the fund. The store has a bunch of different T-shirts to choose from, and we are making more designs. I think people will appreciate how easy it is to order these shirts and the variety of selections.

“I will keep the store up for a very long time, and the money will always go to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund,” she added.

Ms Medrew has already received thanks and support from Bob Marino, the CEO of CafePress.

“I want to applaud you for your heartfelt effort. Immediately after the tragedy, I met with our marketing team to entertain the idea of making a campaign to support the victims’ families,” Mr Marino said in a note to Ms Medrew. “We ultimately decided that our genuine intentions could be misinterpreted and some folks may feel we were trying to make money from these horrible events. Instead, we quietly made a donation.

“I am pleased you are able to use the resources of Cafepress, along with your dedication and effort, to make a difference. I will be making some purchases from you store and it shouldn’t be overlooked that you are a great artist as well as a great human being.”

*People of all ages in all parts of the world have been touched by the wave of sadness emanating from Newtown. Letters, mementos, and remembrances have arrived from across the globe by the thousands, none more touching than those from children.

The second grade students at Gibbs Magnet School of International Studies and Foreign Languages in Little Rock, Ark., decided to send a gift that would help provide long-term help for families who lost loved ones 12/14. They started a fundraising project to support the Healing Hearts Bereavement Center for Grieving Children and Families, a Danbury-based agency providing programs for Sandy Hook Elementary School families.

Their project is called “Kids Stick Together,”and its money-making products are decorative and useful items that they have made from duct tape.

Why would 8-year-olds more than 1,000 miles away think about providing money to help pay for counseling? As one boy in the class said, “If something like that happened here, we would need somebody to talk to.” 

Jennifer White, the teacher of the class that developed the project, read her students the Healing Hearts program description, including what some of the children will be doing in the groups. The class was particularly attentive when they heard that children participating in a grief support program sometimes do a craft project that involved breaking a terra cotta pot, gluing it back together and decorating it with words or artistic expressions of their feelings.

As of Tuesday, January 29, the students had raised $450. Since their story appeared on local television news channels later that week, other schools in Little Rock have offered to help sell the products.

Healing Hearts Center for Grieving Children and Families has been providing free grief and bereavement support for families in the area who suffered tragic losses on 12/14, and has developed a number of programs intended to continue through the next three to five years.  The center, a program of Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut, has been providing free bereavement programs in western Connecticut since 1995. It is funded solely through contributions and grants.

*Kaylee O’Brien, a first grader at Queens Creek Elementary School in Swansboro, N.C., worked with her mother, Trinette, were among many across the country who made a quilt so that both could deal with their emotions.

“As a parent volunteer, and sewing enthusiast, this was our best way to help in the healing process,” Mrs O’Brien said. Within a week of 12/14, the schools that Mrs O’Brien’s children attend held evacuation drills, which were a new process for the North Carolina district.

“When I picked my children up, they were both very quiet,” said Mrs O’Brien. “Their teachers had them do this drill, and then they had to tell the children about what had happened [in Sandy Hook], and it was very difficult for them to understand everything.

“We sat down, and had a very long talk, about good people and bad people,” Mrs O’Brien continued. “My daughter didn’t comprehend that. I didn’t want her to think that everybody is bad. As a parent you don’t want your children to ever think that.”

An amateur quilter, Mrs O’Brien decided to try working with fabric and threads, with her daughter’s input, to help them work through their feelings.

“We made this quilt,” she said, “to find a way to offer some hope for the families.”

Within a few weeks, the O’Briens completed a two-sided quilt. One side features Sandy Hook School’s green and white, and an eagle, while the other features Queens Creek Elementary School’s name and mascot.

“We thought it would be a nice way to show us holding hands across the schools,” Mrs O’Brien said.

The quilt features a Tree of Life pattern. It has 20 leaves, each with the name of a child who was killed that morning, and six hearts to represent the women who died. The quilt measures 37 by 38 inches. It is something that could be hung in a hallway, or a lunch room, said Mrs O’Brien.

“We wanted to honor them in a positive way, not to have any negative to it,” said Mrs O’Brien, who brought the finished piece in to the Queens Creek after it was finished to get approval from school principal Elaine Justice before doing anything else with it. Mrs O’Brien had hoped to send the quilt to Newtown, but had heard about all the donations that were pouring in. She wanted to make sure it was appropriate to offer it to Sandy Hook School.

“She cried when I showed it to her,” Mrs O’Brien said of Ms Justice’s reaction to seeing the quilt. “She was upset, sad, but thought it was a wonderful way to show other parents that there is something we can all do to help others.”

The quilt helped Mrs O’Brien and her daughter work through strong emotions.

“It wasn’t anybody that I knew, but it didn’t have to be. This affected all of us,” said Mrs O’Brien. “[The shootings] really got me. It got to a lot of us.

“We live in a little community, and nobody has heard about us. Everybody here knows each other, and it’s a tight-knit community. It’s just like Sandy Hook and that’s what gets to so many of us down here: Your town could be ours. That could happen anywhere.”


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