Newtown swamped by charity for victims, families

Volunteers looks over tables full of donated toys at the town hall in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

NEWTOWN, Conn. Peter Leone was busy making deli sandwiches and working the register at his Newtown General Store when he got a phone call from Alaska. It was a woman who wanted to give him her credit card number.

"She said, 'I'm paying for the next $500 of food that goes out your door,'" Leone said. "About a half hour later another gentleman called, I think from the West Coast, and he did the same thing for $2,000."

Money, toys, food and other gifts have poured in from around the world as Newtown mourns the loss of 20 children and six school employees at Sandy Hook Elementary School a little over a week ago. The 20-year-old shooter, Adam Lanza, killed his mother before attacking the school then killing himself. Police don't know what caused him to massacre first-graders, teachers, school staff or his mother.

Saturday, all the town's children were invited to town hall to choose from among hundreds of toys donated by individuals, organizations and toy stores.

The basement of the building resembled a toy store, with piles of stuffed penguins, Barbie dolls, board games, soccer balls and other fun gifts. All the toys were inspected and examined by bomb-sniffing dogs before being sorted and put on card tables. The children could choose whatever they wanted.

"But we're not checking IDs at the door," said Tom Mahoney, the building administrator, who's in charge of handling gifts. "If there is a child from another town who comes in need of a toy, we're not going to turn them away."

The United Way of Western Connecticut said the official fund for donations had $2.6 million in it Saturday morning. Others sent envelopes stuffed with cash to pay for coffee, and a shipment of cupcakes arrived from a gourmet bakery in Beverly Hills, Calif.

The Postal Service reported a six-fold increase in mail in town and set up a unique post office box to handle it. The parcels come decorated with rainbows and hearts drawn by school children.

Some letters arrive in packs of 26 identical envelopes — one for each family of the children and staff killed or addressed to the "First Responders" or just "The People of Newtown." One card arrived from Georgia addressed to "The families of 6 amazing women and 20 beloved angels." Many contain checks.

Postal worker Christine Dugas sorts letters at the post office in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, including a letter addressed to "The families of 6 Amazing Women and 20 Beloved Angels.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

"This is just the proof of the love that's in this country," said Postmaster Cathy Zieff.

Many people have placed flowers, candles and stuffed animals at makeshift memorials that have popped up all over town. Others are stopping by the Edmond Town Hall on Main Street to drop off food, or toys, or cash.

"There's so much stuff coming in," Mahoney, of Newtown, said. "To be honest, it's a bit overwhelming; you just want to close the doors and turn the phone off."

Mahoney said the town of some 27,000 with a median household income of more than $111,000 plans to donate whatever is left over to shelters or other charities.

Sean Gillespie of Colchester, who attended Sandy Hook Elementary, and Lauren Minor, who works at U.S. Foodservice in Norwich, came from Calvary Chapel in Uncasville with a car filled with food donated by U.S. Foodservice. But they were sent elsewhere because the refrigerators in Newtown were overflowing with donations.

"We'll find someplace," Gillespie said. "It won't go to waste."

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