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Weston volunteers help Newtown get back to normal

A sign in Newtown reflects widespread support for the community from around the world. —Patricia Gay photo

A sign in Newtown reflects widespread support for the community from around the world. —Patricia Gay photo

Updated 1/10/13. Westonites are helping their neighbors in Newtown recover from last month’s shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Volunteers are fielding thousands of calls at a special call center, while others are handling tons of packages that are arriving daily at a Newtown warehouse.

Jennifer Skor, Rob Nordlinger, Amy Meyerson, Beth Berkowitz, and Barbara Reynolds are among those from Weston who have joined the Newtown Volunteer Task Force to help the town return to normal.

The task force was initially started by Kevin and Robin Fitzgerald of Newtown to help the town during storm- and weather-related events. However, after the Sandy Hook tragedy, town officials were inundated with calls, emails and donations, so the task force is helping them sort things out.

The call center

Utilizing her background in computers and communication, Ms. Skor is volunteering at the call center three days a week, helping the center streamline its volunteer training procedures. It initially took about an hour to train someone on the phones and computers, but she’s trying to get it down to a 15-minute procedure.

The call center is trying to reduce the strain on town officials by personally responding to the thousands of messages received. There are 16 stations at the call center and volunteers are assigned in two-hour shifts to answer calls received at the center’s toll-free number, 855-364-6600.

A memorial in Sandy Hook. —Patricia Gay photo

Many people are calling with heartfelt messages of support and are asking how to donate money, goods or services. For financial contributions, the center is directing people to the town’s website, newtown-ct.gov, which has a special button on it to make donations to the Sandy Hook Support Fund at Newtown Savings Bank.

For those wishing to donate small goods such as school supplies, they are being directed to the town’s warehouse at 3 Simm Lane. However, because the warehouse is getting overfilled, the town has asked people to stop donating small goods and instead donate those items in their own areas to people who need them, in the name of the Sandy Hook victims.

The center also fields calls from corporations and others who are seeking to make high-value donations and provide services such as construction or therapy. Volunteers are creating a database listing the services people are offering. “The tragedy has touched people around the world, and they just want to help in some way,” Ms. Skor said.

Weston volunteers also feel the need to help. “I felt strongly I had to do something to help because the people in Newtown are going through a really difficult time,” said Weston volunteer Beth Berkowitz.

“I’m fortunate that as a stay-at-home mom I have free time during the day, so I am happy to help the people of Newtown in any way I can,” said Ms. Skor.

Warehouse workers

Rob Nordlinger and Amy Meyerson are helping at the warehouse. Initially, just one warehouse building was dedicated to items donated to Newtown, but so much has been received, there are two buildings now, according to Mr. Nordlinger. “We are getting shipments every day from all over the world. A UPS truck will pull up and it’s completely filled with packages for Newtown,” he said.

Newtown flagpole at half-mast. —Patricia Gay photo

Newtown flagpole at half-mast. —Patricia Gay photo

Each package received at the warehouse is opened and the items are sorted and placed in an appropriate area. “There are hundreds of bicycles, and one huge room is completely filled from floor to ceiling with teddy bears. They really don’t need any more,” Mr. Nordlinger said.

A huge amount of school supplies is being sent to the elementary school in Monroe where the Sandy Hook students have been relocated. Most items come with a card or letter expressing condolences and good wishes to the families and the people in Newtown. Checks are being turned over to the Sandy Hook Support Fund at Newtown Savings Bank.

Mr. Nordlinger has come across boxes containing thousands of paper snowflakes from schoolchildren across the world. “It’s very touching to open these boxes and read the words from these children who are reaching out to the kids in Newtown. So many of these donations, whether they come from Montana or Bethel, they’re emotionally packed,” he said.

An area in the warehouse has been set up for the families of the victims, with items sent specifically to them. Volunteers are helping the families sort through the items and take what they want. The rest of the items will be redistributed.

Amy Meyerson from Weston said she volunteered because her husband, Brandon, is from Sandy Hook and his parents still live there. “I wanted to do something to help, so I worked at the warehouse with Brandon’s sister and helped with the packages. I saw everything from school supplies to perishable goods,” she said.

A retired businessman, Mr. Nordlinger said the situation in Newtown was too important for him to ignore. “I put some plans on hold so I could help out. The volunteers are trying to help the town heal and make something positive out of a horrific situation. That’s why I’m here — to help them out and help them heal,” he said.

To learn more about the Newtown Volunteer Task Force, and volunteer opportunities at the call center and warehouse, visit newtownvolunteers.org.

Warehouse volunteers no longer needed

UPDATE  1/10/2013: After this story was written, a message posted on newtownvolunteers.org announced that collections at the warehouse are completed and volunteers are no longer needed there. The message reads:

Warehouse shifts cancelled!

We have been informed by ACS that the collection and sorting of donations at the warehouse will be completed by this Friday.

It is because of all the enthusiasm and positive energy that you AWESOME volunteers brought to the endeavor!!!

There is no more need for volunteers at the warehouse at this time.  If you are signed up, you will be receiving a direct email today, tomorrow and Wednesday . . . just to make sure that we reach everyone.  It is a job well-done, so reach back and give yourselves a big pat on the back!

THANK YOU ALL!

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  • Kevin Fitzgerald

    Many thanks to Jennifer, Rob, Amy, Beth and Barbara for volunteering their time and energy to the Newtown community. They have been, and still are, invaluable and we appreciate that so many of our friends and neighbors in Weston have done so much.

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