Dec 9, 2013
08:32 AMThe Connecticut Story
In Response to Unspeakable Violence, Newtown Has Healed Families-to-Families
Newtown Kindness provided children with lemons, sugar and jugs so they could give away lemonade in their neighborhoods. (Contributed photo from Newtown Kindness)
Month after month, with casseroles, dust mops and fresh laundry, an invisible blanket of neighborliness has enveloped the families of Sandy Hook.
It is about as fundamental an expression of kindness as a person can muster in the face of an unfathomable act. What words could possibly help? What actions could lighten the emotional load?
“We listen to our hearts and always put the families first. It’s just about helping these folks who are suffering like no one else,” said Debora Accomando, co-founder of the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, which has raised nearly $1.7 million for the families of the 26 victims of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
The rampage took the lives of 20 students and six educators at the school.
“We’ve cooked meals, organized closets, done landscaping, house cleaning, snow plowing. You name it, we’ve done it,” said Accomando, a Newtown resident and mother of three sons. “We’ve basically vetted a lot of vendors to ensure they’re good and that they’re going to maintain strict confidentiality. That’s the cornerstone.”
Indeed, much of the group’s work has remained low-profile, by design. It began the day after the shootings, with volunteers bringing food to some of the families. The co-founders are Accomando, her husband, Robert Accomando, and Rebekah Harriman-Stites. Debora Accomando and Harriman-Stites are social workers.
The group has 13 liaisons who respond directly to requests from the families. An additional 14 volunteers help carry out those requests.
“Even a year later, they’re always available,” Accomando said of the volunteers. “We’re trusted by the families because we’ve been quiet and respectful and highly confidential.”
They’re also careful not to let their own emotions spill over into the work.
“You cry in private,” Accomando said. “Going into a family’s house, crossing that sacred threshold, you have no right to cry. You have to be strong.”
The Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior minister for the Newtown Congregational Church and coordinator of the Newtown Interfaith Clergy Association, said it has been important to understand that each family is grieving in its own way.
“One of the ways we can be kind is, as best as we’re able, to understand what their needs are,” Crebbin said. “Some are more introspective and don’t want people bringing them meals. Others are more engaged. There’s a struggle on a daily basis. This grief is still very real, very raw.”
Throughout Newtown, residents have come to embrace kindness as a restorative balm. It is a palpable sense of sincerity that surfaces in routine errands, chance encounters and interactions of all sorts.
“We began to see each other, just in our human-ness,” First Selectwoman Pat Llodra said.
One act of kindness that has stayed with Llodra came just weeks after the shootings. A group of families who lost a child at Sandy Hook Elementary got together and baked cookies for first responders from neighboring communities.
“I think that’s an extraordinary act,” Llodra said.