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Newtown Donations Coordination Team Moves Forward

The Newtown Donations Coordination Team is a town-sanctioned group established by First Selectman Patricia Llodra and tasked with cataloguing and seeing that the many “in kind” donations received by the town are presented to the intended recipients. The team was formed in February, in response to issues Town Tax Assessor Chris Kelsey encountered as he tried to catalogue physical items in a warehouse, and realized many non-tangible donations needed to be tracked.

“In kind” donations are those non-monetary donations, other than toys and school supplies, said Mr Kelsey, a member of the team. Offers of vacation homes, lawn and home services, benches, memorials, and concerts are among the items that this group is prepared to enter into a database and distribute.

The team is made up of a diverse group of people. Keith Alexander, Board of Education member; Ann Benore, Newtown Department of Social Services; Lea Embree, a member of the community and co-chairman; Mary Jane McNamara, community member and co-chairman; Kathy Fetchick, Sandy Hook School parents and team facilitator; Elizabeth Rallo, General Electric executive on loan to the town and facilitator; and Mr Kelsey are volunteers committed to this assignment.

“We were answering phone in the first weeks and just writing down notes. Everyone calling wanted to know where they could send stuff to Newtown,” said Ms Fetchick. It became clear quickly to volunteers in the early weeks following 12/14 that a better system would be needed to track the thousands of donations and offers coming in.

By December 15, Mr Kelsey had secured warehouse space, which was quickly filled with the overflow of items sent to the municipal center, religious institutions in town, and other organizations. The warehouse was only serving a purpose for physical goods, however, Mr Kelsey said.

“So many things were pledged to us in phone calls, like trees, and school security items, or architect and construction offers,” Ms Embree said.

With not just the Volunteer Task Force that had been set up receiving these calls and offers, but the town social service office, schools, and churches inundated with goodwill offerings as well, town officials recognized a need to coordinate from a central point how to disperse the items, Ms Fetchick said. The team has spent the weeks since February collecting lists from the many places in town that have received these offers, and is entering them into a data system that will allow team members to sort them by donor intent, and thus distribute them.

They are thankful to the assistance of resident Lorraine Santore for putting them in contact with Microsoft employee Mike Salaris.

“Microsoft assisted us in making the first contacts to set up AidMatrix,” Ms Embree said.

AidMatrix is the system used by the Federal Emergency Management Association in disaster situations, Ms Fetchick said.

The majority of the “in kind” offers have been specified for families of victims of 12/14 or those injured, Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHS) families, or for the Sandy Hook school, according to Ms Benore. Many have been directed to be given to first responders.

The Volunteer Task Force took the majority of calls, and volunteers did their utmost to understand the donors’ intents, Ms Benore said.

As they go forward with distributing the offers, said Ms Fetchick, the team is extremely sensitive to honoring the donors’ intents, and to the effects of the events of 12/14 on the community as a whole.

“The committee has tried to be very sensitive with limiting contact to families,” Ms Embree said, also, so as not to further overwhelm them.

“Only three or four people in the [Municipal Center] talk directly to the families [of victims of 12/14],” Mr Kelsey said.

The software system, donated to the town, will provide a means for families to see items directed to them, and afford them privacy. Intended recipients will be provided with a password that allows them to log in to the system and either accept or reject the offer.

The team will then determine the next level of eligibility for distributing the gift, after making contact with the donor for further instruction. If there is no intended recipient named by the donor for an offer, the team will make a call on the best placement.

The 12/14 victims’ families and injured staff were sent letters informing them of the team’s task and how to access the AidMatrix system to view donations intended for them, said Ms Fetchick.

Mr Alexander, BOE team members, will handle all school related donations, said Ms Embree, and a point person on the team has been assigned for the various town organizations that are intended recipients, “or a person with an organization has been contacted.”

“Our major challenge has been consolidating the various lists from all over town,” said Mr Kelsey, and the team is grateful to the assistance from volunteers staffing the Task Force. Over 1,100 “in kind” donations have been entered into the database as of April 3, with many more offers still to be processed and entered.

 “We want the community to know that we are trying to be as accountable as possible in this task we are given, while respecting the privacy of donors and recipients,” Ms Embree emphasized.

The team members agreed that there is much appreciation for the generosity shown the town and people directly affected by 12/14. Offers continue to come in, but the team members are gently suggesting to callers making general non-monetary donations as to better places than Newtown to send items, and the team does not handle monetary donations at all. “We are just trying to manage the generous offers we have to date,” said Ms Embree.

“People really want to be involved and help,” she pointed out. There is a glut of offers on the table right now, but she and other team members worry about what happens down the road.

“A year from now,” Ms Embree mused, “people will still be hurting. Will the offers of help still be there?”

Right now, the best help that people can give is to attend the many charitable events currently scheduled all over town, said Ms Benore.

“We are trying to come up with the best step-by-step process to distribute these offers,” Ms Benore said, “and as a follow through, our team will also make sure that all donors are thanked.”

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