NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — Newtown’s children were showered with gifts Saturday — tens of thousands of teddy bears, Barbie dolls, soccer balls and board games — and those are only some of the tokens of support from around the world for the town in mourning.
Just a little over a week ago, 20 children and six school employees were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, attacked the school, then killed himself. Police don’t know what set off the massacre.
Days before Christmas, funerals were still being held Saturday, the last of those whose schedules were made public, according to the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association. A service was held in Utah for 6-year-old Emilie Parker. Others were held in Connecticut for Josephine Gay, 7, and Ana Marquez-Greene, 6.
All of Newtown’s children were invited to Edmond Town Hall, where they could choose a toy. Bobbi Veach, who was fielding donations at the building, reflected on the outpouring of gifts from toy stores, organizations and individuals around the world.
“It’s their way of grieving,” Veach said. “They say, ‘I feel so bad, I just want to do something to reach out.’ That’s why we accommodate everybody we can.”
The United Way of Western Connecticut said the official fund for donations had $2.8 million in it on Saturday. Others sent envelopes stuffed with cash to pay for coffee at the general store, 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 the town and set up a unique post office box to handle it. The parcels come decorated with rainbows and hearts drawn by schoolchildren.
Some letters arrived 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 contained checks.
“This is just the proof of the love that’s in this country,” Postmaster Cathy Zieff said.
Peter Leone said he 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.”
At the town hall building, the basement resembled a toy store, with piles of stuffed penguins, dolls, games, 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.
Jugglers entertained the children, a dunk tank was set up outside and the crowd of several hundred parents and children sang an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday” to one child. A man dressed as Santa Claus was in attendance, and high school students were offering arts and crafts such as face painting and caricatures.
Newtown resident Amy Mangold, director of the local Parks and Recreation department, attended with her 12-year-old daughter, Cory. She acknowledged that most people here could afford to buy their own gifts but said “this means people really care about what’s happening here. They know we need comfort and want to heal.”
She pointed to two people across the room. “Look at that hug, that embrace. This is bringing people together. Some people haven’t been getting out since this happened. It’s about people being together. I see people coming together and healing.”