Supporters of a "National Compassion Fund" are looking beyond the efforts of Newtown officials including First Selectman Pat Llodra, who want to see the largest victims' fund amassed following the 12/14 tragedy kept under local control. While eight families have signed on supporting an idea to create a nationally administered infrastructure to administer funds following future disasters, only one survivors' family member has criticized the local United Way fundraising initiative.
In late February, while efforts were still underway to localize a distribution committee, Cristina Lafferty-Hassinger, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung made an extended public Facebook post taking the nonprofit to task.
"The United Way of Western Connecticut gallantly stepped up to help manage the influx of donations, but who are they really helping? They offered their trusted name to evoke confidence from eager donors, but more than two months later the victims' families are being asked for proof of hardship before even the smallest disbursement is issued."
She continued, "The United Way of Western Connecticut is doing it's job: collecting money to disburse in a way that aligns with their mission. Victims' families do not factor in the United Way's mission.
"We've been victimized enough," she added. "We shouldn't have to fight for what is rightfully ours, but we won't be taken advantage of in our darkest hour."
A spokesperson for the National Compassion Fund told The Bee that Sandy Hook families are not commenting, but that they are "cautiously optimistic" that the United Way will "do the right thing."
"These families are hearing horror stories about what happened after previous disasters," said spokesperson Caryn Kaufman. "They are looking at the history of fund distributions and it has not gone well."
Nonetheless, Ms Kaufman admitted, "Look, if there was a problem, they would be complaining."
Ms Kaufman said survivors or victims of the Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Aurora, and Oak Creek shootings have made themselves available to discuss how they feel funds collected on their behalf were mismanaged or diverted away from direct survivors' distribution.
"These victims started talking to each other, and they started learning each others' lessons," Ms Kaufman said. "In most cases, a fraction of what was raised went to victims' families, or they had to fight hard to get it."
But Selectman Will Rodgers, who represents the newly-formed foundation that will appoint and take recommendations from a local distribution committee, thinks those representing outside interests should give Newtown a chance to do right by its devastated survivors.
"Clearly there is one viewpoint that dictates that all money be equally distributed among the immediate families who have lost a loved one," Mr Rodgers said, adding that a committee is approaching the distribution in careful stages.
"It deserves a chance," Mr Rodgers said of the plan to have mainly local volunteers and public input informing distribution recommendations to the foundation now maintaining the $10 million United Way collections.
"We're proceeding in a measured and incremental way," Mr Rodgers said of the process up to today. "We designed the process the way we were advised in order to best protect local prerogatives."
He said if this plan doesn't meet with the immediate families' satisfaction, there are other options for handling the funds including outside distribution consultants. But the town was warned if it went in that direction, it would have meant resigning much or all local influence.
"We wanted to infuse the distribution panel with local personnel and participation," he said.
At the same time, Mr Rodgers pointed out, that the local foundation still has the ability to help other impromptu fundraisers "who may find they are in over their heads."
"Some may be facing administrative or compliance issues, and we may be able to help them out," he said.
Sixty-four families, eight representing Sandy Hook victims, have signed on with other parents and family members of murder victims proposing that a national protocol be established. They want to see a centralized Compassion Fund created immediately after a national tragedy occurs.
The fund, which would be specific to the tragedy, would create a consistent and transparent infrastructure for donations to be collected and for 100 percent of the funds to be distributed to victims. A draft template of one possible distribution plan has been shared with senior lawmakers in Washington, DC.
Funds raised in the National Compassion Fund would go directly to families of the deceased, as well as those physically injured and psychologically traumatized by the specific event. Donations would be tax deductible to the donor and tax exempt to the victims and their families.
Likewise, the National Compassion Fund would be a trusted depository helping to eliminate the proliferation of fraudulent funds that invariably pop up in the hours following a national tragedy.