The Newtown High School cafeteria was turned into a confectionary gathering spot on Valentine’s Day.
Vikki Grodner, the founder of Life Is Precious, traveled with her husband Ken from Alabama to help deliver thousands of cupcakes to Newtown’s first responders, the immediate families of those who lost loved ones on 12/14, and the children of Sandy Hook School. The offering was Mrs Grodner’s way of “giving the community communal hugs,” she said. She called it The Newtown Community Cupcake Heartwarmer.
Life Is Precious was founded by Mrs Grodner in 2011 as part of MeetUP for Change. Life Is Precious is a movement that provides resources and well wishes to communities in crisis. MeetUP for Change, of which Mrs Grodner is president and CEO, is a nonprofit organization committed to performing what she calls “random acts of volunteerism.”
Cupcakes from five bakeries — Sprinkles and Babycakes of New York City, Cherries Cupcakes of Newtown, JCakes of North Branford, and Sugarbelle Bakery of South Windsor — a few hundred cupcakes from Walmart and Sam’s Club, and cookies from DOrazio Sisters were all set out in the cafeteria of Newtown High School for a three-hour event that Thursday. Mrs Grodner said that if some of her friends at home had had their way, more cupcakes would also have been within the mix.
“We had folks in Alabama who wanted to donate, but we just couldn’t get them here,” she said.
In the cafeteria that sunny afternoon, however, those who were able to get to the high school were busy setting up tables filled with baked goods, laying out T-shirts that were also available for guests, and even setting up a huge display of Necco Sweetheart candy hearts.
“We have quite the crew,” said Mrs Grodner, smiling as she counted off nearly 20 volunteers from Walmart and about a dozen Newtown residents. Walmart also provided arts and crafts supplies for the youngest visitors, supplemented by a supply of items from Oriental Trading Company.
“It’s so special, the people who came out and wanted to support this,” she added.
In addition, two special guests were waiting to meet those who had been invited to the high school that afternoon as well. Food Network personalities Martie Duncan and Linkie Marais, both of whom were finalists last year on Food Network Star, helped set up displays and then smiled and graciously signed dozens of autographs and posed for photos.
Ms Duncan and Mrs Grodner were introduced through a mutual friend, who put the two ladies together during the planning stages of The Cupcake Heartwarmer. Ms Marais was contacted by Ms Duncan, and drove from her home in Boston to be in Sandy Hook on Valentine’s Day.
“It is my great honor to be here,” Ms Marais said in response to many guests who thanked her for being part of the event.
“I am so proud of her for what she is doing,” Ms Duncan, a fellow Alabama resident, said of Mrs Grodner’s efforts. “Our state… we wanted to make sure you didn’t think we’d forgotten you.”
In addition to all of the food and arts and crafts, guests were invited to pick up a Life Is Precious T-shirt for themselves. White T-shirts had the movement’s logo on the front, and were piled by size on one of the lunchroom tables.
Following what she calls “the social entrepreneurship of Tom’s, the company that famously ‘has a buy one give one’ approach to shoes and eyewear,” Mrs Grodner started a similar philosophy with LIP Movement T-shirts and baseball hats late last year. For each LIP shirt or hat that is purchased through a donation to the movement, LIP promises to give a corresponding short or hat to someone in a community in need.
Newtown was the first location where the T-shirts were handed out. By the end of the evening dozens were being worn around the cafeteria, while many others had been picked up to take home.
After The Shock Wears Off
Life Is Precious is concerned with helping communities after the initial shock of an event begins to wear off.
“When a natural disaster like hurricane, tornado or wildfire occurs, MeetUP for Change and the LIP movement want to bring comfort and resources to impacted individuals,” explained Mrs Grodner.
“We realize it is important for organizations to provide immediate relief. That’s important and needed,” she continued. “But two or three months later, needs still exist. Those needs may not be important to survival — like water, and food — but they’re there.”
Two years ago, for instance, Mrs Grodner and MeetUP for Change arranged for new women’s apparel to be delivered to Tuscaloosa, Ala. A former employee of the New York-based apparel manufacturer Alfred Dunner, Mrs Grodner reached out to her colleagues with an appeal for clothing following the EF-4 and EF-5 tornadoes that hit dozens of communities in Alabama in April 2011.
Five weeks after the devastating storms, a 53-foot trailer arrived in Tuscaloosa, filled with more than 32,000 women’s garments donated by Alfred Dunner. Valued at more than $1 million, the clothing would have filled racks for more than mile if hung side by side.
An impromptu boutique was created once volunteers unpacked, sorted and displayed the merchandise. For more than a week, women traveled from across the region to pick out new garments for church, work and daily life.
“When [12/14] occurred,” Mrs Grodner said, “clothing wasn’t going to do any good here. But we were incredibly impacted. We wanted to do something.”
She put a lot of thought, she said, into what she and LIP could do. Once she decided how to offer a community hug to Newtown, Mrs Grodner visited the town twice before the week of Valentine’s Day. She credited town employees Christal Preszler and Rob Sibley for helping her organize the event after her initial call to the first selectman’s office.
“This is her passion, her vision,” Ken Grodner said February 14. Vikki’s Grodner’s husband was outside the school building, greeting guests and guiding them into the cafeteria for their cupcakes and crafts.
“When I asked her what she wanted for Valentine’s Day, she told me this was what she wanted,” he said. “She wanted to be in Newtown for Valentine’s Day. She wanted to bring some happiness and cheer to a community that needed some. It is important to her to provide meaningful support to a community.”
The morning after The Cupcake Heartwarmer, Mrs Grodner was pleased to report that all 2,000 cupcakes had been given away. About 500 people ended up attending the event, she said.
The gathering occasionally became emotional, she said, but it was generally a happy three hours as guests of all ages entered the confectionery wonderland and discovered everything that was waiting for them.
“People were so taken with the fact that we did this,” Mrs Grodner she said February 15. “It was a huge success.”