Gestures Of Kindness, Part Nine— Residents Continue To Receive Love, Provide Inspiration To Others

Photo: contributed

A two-day food drive at Six Flags New England conducted over the two-day 2013 season opening weekend filled more than two trucks with donations for Newtown Food Pantry. It was one of countless gestures of kindness that continue to be done for the residents of Newtown since 12/14.

(This is the ninth installation of a series of stories that share with 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.)

Six Flags New England, an amusement park located in Agawam, Mass., known for its adrenaline inducing roller coasters, has helped lift the spirits of Newtown with several acts of charity. The amusement park parlayed its opening weekend into a food drive that benefited the Newtown Food Pantry and Sandy Hook Family Healing Fund.

Anyone who donated six non-perishable food items was given a discounted price of admission: $20.13 instead of $54.99. In addition, a portion of the admission was donated by Six Flags to The Sandy Hook Family Healing Fund.

According to Capes for Kids Co-founder Cammie Mollica, who helped organize the event, more than two truckloads of food were delivered to Newtown Food Pantry and a $500 donation was given to the Sandy Hook Family Healing Fund.

Capes for Kids was co-founded by Ms Molicca, a Wethersfield resident, after her six-year old son compared a group of students who ran away from Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14 to superheroes.

Ms Mollica and her 14-year-old daughter came up with the idea to outfit all the Sandy Hook Elementary School students with a superhero cape. The response was so strong she broadened her goal to provide all of Newtown’s elementary school students with a cape. So far she has collected approximately 3,400 capes.

The Capes for Kids project put her in touch with Six Flags New England, which sells capes in its gift stores, and Sandy Hook Elementary School Assistant Principal Cathy Mazzariello, who suggested that Ms Mollica organize a food drive.

“[Ms Mazzariello] said they do a lot of food drives for the food pantry, and she said because we’re focusing on paying it forward she thought it would be a good fit to tell the students this was done on their behalf,” Ms Mollica said.

With the support of Six Flags, Ms Mollica said the idea became “a pretty big thing,” and mentioned that there were 35 military personnel who visited the park at one time during the food drive, which ran April 13-14.

“It was overwhelming but a nice turnout,” said Ms Mollica.

Six Flags also supplied 600 vouchers to Sandy Hook Elementary School according to Ms Mollica. Each student and faculty member received a voucher, which entitled them to a reduced admission price. Ms Mollica said Six Flags will also be giving each student and staff member a free admission ticket as well.


Pillowcases Provide Peace

Becky Frazer, the owner of Quilter’s Corner in New Milford, put out a call for 600 pillowcases for the surviving students of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Thanks to a large international response, 10,000 children can now fall asleep on a colorful pillowcase. Ms Frazer received more than 16 times her original goal.

“They came from all over the world,” Ms Frazer said. “It was pretty amazing, we had every state, and England, Canada ... I can’t even remember they came from so many places.”

The purpose of the pillowcases was to offer children a pleasant respite from any hardships they may be going through, especially those related to 12/14.

“Just a moment of happiness and peace for whoever receives them. When you’re going through such tragedy like that peace is so wonderful,” Ms Frazer said.

The pillowcases, made from colorful, exciting fabrics and featuring designs aimed at children, such as basketballs, horses and unicorns, have been received well by many children, according to Ms Frazer.

“I remember one little boy, he got a pillowcase. I think he was in kindergarten and he was very happy, and he took it home and told his mother I need to sleep with it, and he put his pillowcase on,” Ms Frazer said. “The next morning he sat at breakfast table rubbing it on his face, he was just thrilled to get it.”

Since Newtown schools were inundated with an overwhelming number of gifts and offerings of charity, it wasn’t possible to give the pillowcases directly to the schools. Instead, Ms Frazer said the pillowcases were given to organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts, and dance groups, so that the pillowcases ended up on the pillows of Newtown students “in a roundabout way.”

While most of the pillowcases were donated to the Newtown community, Ms Frazer said the large number of pillowcases she received allowed her to share the pillowcases with other towns and organizations as well, including inner-city schools, foster homes and fire departments.

Besides collecting pillowcases, Ms Frazer said she crafted some pillowcases personally, including a pillowcase requested specifically by one young victim’s family.

“I made pillowcases with seashells on them because the seashells meant something special to the family,” Ms Frazer said.

Ms Frazer believes the pillowcase donations not only benefited the children who received them, but may also help those who donated sleep better at night.

“I think everyone felt like they needed to help,” Ms Frazer said. “I think it was a big help to the people who made pillowcases. I get comments from people saying thank you for letting me help.”


Florida Fundraiser A Feeding Frenzy

Clermont Middle School’s cafeteria was the site of food, music and charity six days after 12/14. The community fundraiser, held in Clermont Fla., raised $4,100 for The Newtown Memorial Fund, set up on 12/14 to provide care and support for those directly affected as well as the entire community.

Each patron paid $5 for dinner and entertainment. The food was donated by local businesses, and the live music was provided by five local musical acts, including The Clermont Middle School Jazz Band.

The event also featured emergency vehicles provided by local first responders. Young children could climb into the driver’s seats and turn the flashing lights on.

Science teacher Ivette Ciccio, who came up with the event and helped organize it, was impressed with the turnout. Originally hoping to sell 300 dinners, the attendance was so large the event ran out of food after serving 600 meals.

Ms Ciccio credits the work of Clermont Middle School’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) for the success of the impromptu fundraiser. After placing a call to PTO member David Palka, Ms Ciccio said the event really took off.

“We were live on the news in three days. It was amazing,” Ms Ciccio said. “Monday I spoke to the PTO and the fundraiser was Thursday night. The PTO really went out and went crazy and made it huge.”

Being a teacher for 16 years, Ms Ciccio said the strong bond teachers feel for their students made her empathize with the students and teachers in Newtown.

“We get to know them we get to know their lives,” Ms Ciccio said. “We get to know when they get hurt, when they’re happy when they’re sad, when they want to share. We feel like apart of the family and we have a connection to our kids.”

While the funds were raised to help the residents of Newtown, Ms Ciccio felt the entire experience was therapeutic for their Florida community as well.

“It was a privilege to do something, it wasn’t much but it was something,” Ms Ciccio said. “It was good to be a part of something, I know we felt good doing it.”


A Troubadour Performs for Newtown

Spook Handy was one of nearly a dozen musical acts that performed at Bridgewater Township Library, located in Bridgewater N.J., on January 17 to benefit the victims of 12/14. The event raised money for Newtown Memorial Fund, Newtown Youth & Family Services, and The Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

Mr Handy, a self proclaimed troubadour, saw the concert as a way to help people make new interpersonal connections and strengthen the community, an issue he deems very important.

“What I hope to do in general is build community, raise awareness, have fun, and open people’s hearts,” Mr Handy said. “The ultimate solution is to open people’s hearts.”

Mr Handy hopes that strengthening the community may lead to less violence in the future.

“I just get a feeling that we’re getting so disconnected that we don’t know who we’re harming,” Mr Handy said. “Music has a way of forging a stronger community especially when people sing together.”

Audience participation is one tool Mr Handy uses to get people invested in the musical experience.

“More than half of my material uses the audience,” Mr Handy said. “I like people to listen too, but I find they listen a lot better when they are involved in other aspects. It’s more sharing music than it is presenting music.”

According to Mr Handy the event was a success in terms of money raised and on a personal level.

“It was successful, some money was raised, in a certain sense that’s important, it has short term implications and specific implications,” he said. “It was also successful because I made a friend with one guy there.”

Program Coordinator for Youth Services Kyle Pucciarello was thrilled with the turnout and the amount of money raised.

“An open mic normally gets anywhere from 45-65 people and we more than doubled that, we got around 120 people,” Mr Pucciarello said. “Between what people donated that evening and what people pledged to donate by mailing  into the charities, we were definitely talking about over $1,000.”

A musician himself, Mr Pucciarello performed at the event as well. He also sees the open mic nights which occur regularly at the library as a great way to build and strengthen a sense of community.

“It’s becoming one of our most well attended programs, and I think that speaks to what Mr Handy mentioned; you build community and get people involved and get them to think of what’s going on outside their iPhone,” Mr Pucciarello said.


An Alphabet Of Support

Pine Bluffs Elementary School, located in Pine Bluffs, Wyo., is planning on sending a piece of its beautiful state to Sandy Hook Elementary School by way of an illustrated children’s book. C Is For Cowboy, part of the Discover America State by State series, is a Wyoming alphabet book, according to Pine Bluffs Elementary School teacher Susan Watson. Each letter of the alphabet is represented  by a word associated with Wyoming. The book, released in 2003, was written by Eugene Gagliano and illustrated by Sue Guy.

Ms Watson, who has taught for 34 years at the Laramie County school, which serves 157 students from kindergarten to sixth grade, plans to send the book to Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, the temporary site for Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ms Watson hopes sharing the beauty of Wyoming will help bring comfort to the Newtown community.

“We love our state, and we wanted to share something from our beautiful state that might be enjoyable to the students,” Ms Watson said. “The idea was to let the people in Newtown know that they’re cared about everywhere.”

Students and faculty funded the purchase of the book with donations of 25 cents, showing that small acts of kindness can add up to a great offering of love and support. Ms Watson kept the suggested donation amount modest to make sure everyone who wanted to get involved would be able to.

“We are a small, rural school,” Ms Watson said. “We have about 1,000 people in our town, we don’t have a street light. We’re a small school in the southeast corner of Wyoming, 25 cents wouldn’t put a strain or burden on any student.”

According to Ms Watson the book will be shipped to Newtown after a nameplate is added with a personalized message. She said the book is a reminder to Newtown that they are not forgotten.

“We want the students at Sandy Hook to know that the students and staff of Pine Brook Elementary School remember them and care about what happened,” Ms Watson said.


Books Commemorate 12/14 Victims

The North Wales Area Library in North Wales, Pa., has added 69 books to its collection, all donated in the memory of the victims of 12/14. The books, which are targeted to children in kindergarten to second grade, all feature a nameplate with a picture of an angel and the name of one of the 26 people who was killed at Sandy Hook School on 12/14.

Librarian Jayne Blackledge said the added books were considered some of the best for the age level of the children involved in the tragedy in Sandy Hook Elementary School. People who made donations were able to specify which books they wanted to purchase.

The original plan was to get 26 books, and dedicate one to each of the victims. However, the response was so great most victims have three books dedicated to their name. According to Ms Blackledge the idea to dedicate books was a direct response to the wishes of the Newtown community.

“In this case after the crisis, we were listening to the parents of the victims speak,” Ms Blackledge said. “Many of them mentioned they didn’t personally need anything but they mentioned that they wanted their children to be remembered.”

The gesture not only helps keep the memory of the victims alive but also gives an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about important issues of safety.

“We’ve had people coming in now that see the bookplate inside the cover and ask about the program,” Ms Blackledge said. “We’re finding people are explaining things to their children, things about safety and how it’s important to know about safe places.”

The North Wales Library was located in an elementary school from 1927 to 2010 according to Ms Blackledge, who recalled participating in the school’s safety drills. Ms Blackledge said the close connection to an elementary school for so many years may have contributed to the library’s desire to help, but ultimately said it was about remembering the lives lost.

“We just felt really strongly that these children were so important, and they should always be remembered,” she said.


Chicago Bands Rock Wrigleyville For Newtown

The historic Chicago neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field, known for its apartment buildings adorned with bleacher seats filled with loyal Chicago Cubs Fans, was the stage for a benefit concert for Newtown.

On January 25 the Goose Island Brew Company in Wrigleyville hosted three bands — Archie Powell & The Exports, Mutts, and Brother George — and charged an $8 admission, with all proceeds going to the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, set up by Sandy Hook parents and friends to provide immediate and continuing support for the families of the victims.

Singer and guitarist Archie Powell, band leader of Archie Powell & the Exports, said he was happy to help out.

“It seemed like a good thing to do paying it forward as much as possible,” Mr Powell said. “I’m all for alleviating a horrible tragedy in any way that I can.”

According to Mr Powell about 150 to 200 people attended the event, which raised over $1,000 for My Sandy Hook Family Fund. Mr Powell said he was pleasantly surprised by the large turnout.

“I think it went great, there were a lot of people there, a lot of fun,” Mr Powell said. “We raised a good chunk of change, considering the resources that we had. We’re just a little rock band putting on a little show, we raised a pretty sizeable amount.”

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