Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teddy bears symbol of global grieving

Tens of thousands of gifts sent to Newtown

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NEWTOWN, Conn. -- The world has been grieving along with Newtown and the physical manifestation of that grief -- a tide of teddy bears and toys, letters and cards, cheques and cash, even hams and turkeys -- has been delivered by mail and by hand since just after the Dec. 14 shootings.

A need arose quickly for someone to manage the donations, still coming daily via U-Hauls, vans, school buses, box trucks and 18-wheelers. Deliveries have come from Chicago, Texas, Arkansas, Nebraska and by mail from across the country and beyond, Chris Kelsey, the town assessor, and other town officials said.

"A couple of weeks ago, I was the assessor," Kelsey said.

Since then, he's had a new job -- organizing gifts in a warehouse that looks to be the size of a grocery store. The warehouse on Simm Lane is starting to resemble the closing scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with brown boxes stacked high to create aisles.

After the school massacre in which 20 children and six women were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Kelsey said, he has put in 60- to 80-hour work weeks co-ordinating volunteers who sort through the donations.

Some mementoes are delicate -- paper snowflakes the size of dinner plates. Mounds of orange, blue and purple stuffed-animals -- tens of thousands of them -- are heaped in overflowing boxes near school supplies and other donations.

"It never stopped," Kelsey said of the days leading up to Christmas. "We worked all through the weekend."

The warehouse was closed on Dec. 25, but on Wednesday, he and at least 20 town workers and volunteers were organizing toys and supplies into boxes, by category.

On Thursday, about 50 volunteers sorted puzzles, Barbies, Disney Cinderella dolls, lacrosse sticks, footballs, fleece blankets, Tonka trucks, Battleship board games, clothing and food.

First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra said Newtown is trying to honour the wishes of those who donated gifts by taking an inventory, and "our intention ultimately is to donate" the gifts in honour of Sandy Hook Elementary.

In one corner of the warehouse are rows of green recycling bins, labeled with the names of each victim, and filled with envelopes and boxes. The mail sits there for later distribution to the families. It's still not clear if, or when, they might want the deluge of attention and affection.

 

-- The Hartford Courant

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 28, 2012 A21

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