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Updated Friday, December 28, 2012 at 07:16 AM

Newtown sifts through avalanche of altruism

By Dan Zak
The Washington Post

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Christmas is gone, and with it the satellite trucks; now the residents of Newtown are left with tens of thousands of teddy bears they don’t know what to do with.

Two weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, nearly a week after the streets were jammed with hearses and funeral processions, Newtown is digging itself out from an avalanche of altruism.

On Thursday afternoon, the warehouse for donations contained more gifts than there are residents of Newtown (28,000).

No matter the nature of a tragedy, the donations always outweigh what’s needed, said Lauren Trahan, a member of the Adventist Community Services’ disaster-response team. “For Americans, the way you help is you give stuff,” said Trahan, who lives across the state, in Plainfield.

Coping with generosity, however, has become a full-time job for volunteers in Newtown. At the warehouse, pallets of toys are wheeled into a room where residents box and label them. The boxes are then stacked in the back of the warehouse until the town can decide what to do with them; most will likely be re-donated to needier parts of the country.

Everyone should “stop sending us things,” Bill Hart, a grateful but overwhelmed town Board of Education member, told the News-Times newspaper this week.

The inventory continues at a call center staffed by the Newtown Volunteer Task Force. There, using eight phone lines, volunteers have returned about 2,200 of 20,000 calls from people who have offered to donate everything from coloring books to a two-night stay at a farm cottage in Pennsylvania. Each caller and offer are recorded for future reference.

Amid the rush to help, at least one person tried to exploit the tragedy. The FBI charged a New York woman Thursday with posing as the aunt of a child killed in the attack to collect donations. Nouel Alba, 37, appeared Thursday in federal court in Hartford, and was released on $50,000 bond.


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