Newtown, Conn., Overwhelmed by Outpouring of Support, Donations

PHOTO: Stuffed animals and a sign calling for prayer rest at the base of a tree near the Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 17, 2012.PlayCharles Krupa/AP Photo
WATCH Newtown Overwhelmed by Acts of Kindness

Newtown, Conn., has been showered with acts of kindness in the days after one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The calls from concerned strangers Monday included a Los Angeles artist who donated cups of coffee to customers at Newtown General Store.

"He asked if he could mention this to other people he's worked with and we started getting calls from all over the country," store owner Peter Leone said. "We thought it was a nice gesture, heartfelt."

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People from as far west as California and everywhere between -- Kansas City, Mo., Chicago, North Carolina, New Jersey and Ontario, Canada -- have called to donate money for coffee and catered lunches.

Leone later printed a sign at the general store that read, 'Thank you, Tom Cabanaugh from California for showing support for the town of Newtown. *Free coffee.'

He says such gestures have so far been well received. But it's not just calls from random strangers. His employees have also asked to help, including one worker who offered to donate salary money to one of the causes in town.

"The town is suffering as a whole," Leone said. "People of the town, they're really reeling in their sorrow. Most of us know a lot of these kids or seen them in town."

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Many know each other in this tight-knit town of about 27,000 people.

"Connecticut is a small state, so it's touching everybody," said Laura Soll, communications director at Connecticut Funeral Directors Association Inc. "That's why it's so impactful."

She has seen firsthand the many different needs a funeral home requires in the days preparing for a service.

"We're saying to funeral directors, 'What do you need?'" Soll said.

Such needs include people to help with funeral arrangements, welcoming families and staffing funerals. Aside from manpower, there is also a need for materials such as funeral caskets, hearses and limousine services.

"We had funeral directors on Saturday helping with paperwork, working with people, supporting in every way, doing whatever we could, even if it means giving them a hug," Soll said. "They just wanted to support their colleague."

The association is a membership organization consisting of more than 220 funeral homes in Connecticut who work by assessing what local funeral homes need in the days leading up to a funeral.

Soll says the organization has "mounted a united effort to support the funeral homes who are serving families in the Newtown area," including Newtown's only funeral home, Honan, which is coordinating services with 11 families.

"That would tax any funeral home," Soll said. "All of our funeral directors are stepping forward. They're volunteering their services, they're doing it on their days off."

Others are turning to Twitter to share how they plan to show their support to families through the hashtags, #20Acts, #26Acts. The concept: to donate an item or service in the form of 20 or 26, representing the number of child victims and total number of victims, respectively.

One woman tweeted that she organized an arts and craft donation for children in Newtown; another woman baked cookies for her child's teacher and Julia Simens tweeted that she donated a bike helmet to a child in Indonesia in memory of the 20 children.

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Stefanie Watts of Egg Harbor, N.J., is crocheting 26 beanies for newborns at the Neonatal Unit at Cooper Hospital in Camden, N.J., in memory of the 20 children and six adults who lost their lives in Friday's massacre.

"It's a way to counteract evil with something good. We're better than this circumstance," said Watts, whose 30-year-old daughter, Alicia, works as a special education teacher at DC Prep, a charter school in Washington, D.C.

"Everyone has their life in harm's way, strange when you think of it as a teacher," Watts said. "We sometimes take their roles for granted, but it's important to understand how powerful that work is."