This photo provided by the Monroe Police Department shows the new Sandy Hook Elementary School on the first day of classes in Monroe, Conn, on Jan. 3. / AP
NEWTOWN, Conn. - Traci and Jeff Fant of Greenville, S.C., drove through the night last week with their 4-year-old granddaughter and arrived here 13 hours later to show support for a town trying to move forward after 27 people were killed in a shooting rampage.
The Fants and their granddaughter, Porshea Jackson, presented to Newtown officials a vinyl banner that hangs on the wall of a conference room at the town's municipal center.
The banner shows Connecticut and South Carolina merged into one state, with photos of the people killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School and signatures of support from South Carolinians.
"My heart sank when I heard the news about Newtown," said Traci Fant, who runs a non-profit organization, Think2xTwice.org, which works to prevent teen bullying and violence. "I thought we should send our love."
Throughout the world, people moved by photos and stories of the 20 first-graders and six adults killed Dec. 14 at the school had similar thoughts. They mailed to Newtown hundreds of thousands of letters, posters and gifts that have touched the hearts of people here.
They have contributed millions of dollars to charities established to help families affected by the tragedy. More than $8.8 million has been donated to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, created by United Way of Western Connecticut and a local bank, and Newtown officials say more than 35 other funds have been created.
Volunteers at a donated office space have answered more than 10,000 phone calls and 3,000 e-mails from people and companies offering to provide services or products at no charge, according to Robin Fitzgerald, who coordinated the Newtown Volunteer Task Force with her husband, Kevin.
"It is difficult to put into proper perspective the outpouring of love and support that Newtown has received from all across the country and the world in the weeks following the tragedy," says First Selectman Pat Llodra, Newtown's chief executive.
People have offered to build schools, playgrounds, parks, a carousel and memorials, says Fitzgerald, whose program was flooded with 1,650 locals who volunteered to field the calls and e-mails.
Their job was to record all the offers until they could be addressed by officials and to make sure that everyone who made an offer received thanks.
Besides building projects, people called to offer food, jewelry, computer equipment, school supplies, funeral services, puppies, vacations for grieving families and first responders, frequent-flier miles and country club memberships, Fitzgerald says.
Professional services were offered by physical therapists, personal trainers, masseuses, acupuncturists, teachers, comfort-dog groups, crime-scene cleaners, bakers and metal-shop workers.
A metal shop in Arizona made 20 four-foot welded steel angels to represent the children who were killed and six 6-foot angels to represent the adults slain there.
Fitzgerald says nothing was more touching than a boy who taped a nickel, a quarter and a penny on paper. He said "it was his allowance, and he hoped it would help," she says.
Volunteers could not say what town officials will decide to do with many offers. Callers such as those who offered to build new schools were understanding, Fitzgerald says.
"They said: 'When you need us, we will be there,'" Fitzgerald says.
The town has received about 160,000 pieces of mail - some with signs, banners, artwork and quilts - showing support, says Carole Ross, the town's human resources director.
Much of it is on display in the corridors of the municipal center.
There is a quilt from Bellevue Elementary School in Bellevue, Neb. The needlework shows six apples, each with the name of an adult killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and 20 crayons with the names of the children killed.
David Frick of Columbus, Mont., drew a picture of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal. She has angel wings and holds a banner with the names of those who died.
Seventh-grade students at James Island Middle School in Charleston, S.C., sent a poster that says, "Hold On To Your Happiest Memories."
"It is an overwhelming experience to pass through the corridors," says Llodra, whose office is in the building. "One feels love and hope, as well as the sadness."
The town has received about 62,000 teddy bears and stuffed animals, 561 boxes of toys, 60 bicycles, 1,994 boxes of school supplies, 89 boxes of backpacks, 79 boxes of tissues, 45 boxes of books, 27 boxes of pillows and 22 boxes of new jackets, says Chris Kelsey, the town tax assessor, who was put in charge of donations.
The town has also received more than 10 boxes of disinfectant wipes, one or two boxes of toilet tissue, toilet seat covers, paper towels and cups, and some "one-off stuff" like instant mashed potatoes and rubber chickens, Kelsey says.
Some school supplies have been given to local schools, and some items will be given to charities chosen by families who lost someone in the shootings, he says. Those families can take anything they want for themselves, he said.
Storage space is limited, and Kelsey is working with the families to decide what to do with the rest of the items.
Although Newtown's facilities and manpower have been strained by the volume of gifts, they make "you see how good people in the world are," Kelsey says.
Llodra says she hopes the world's outpouring of love and the Sandy Hook tragedy can lead to change.
She says, "I can only think and hope that the horror of this event - the slaying of 20 first-graders and six educators in an elementary school in a quiet, careful midsize town - has energized and alarmed people to recognize that changes must be made."
Llodra says the tragedy points out that Newtown and America are "at the intersection of bad policy regarding the tools of weaponry - too little understanding and treatment of those with mental health problems and a societal desensitization toward acts of violence, conflict, aggression and anger."
"Perhaps this singular event in Sandy Hook is finally the push needed for all of us, individually and collectively, to recognize our responsibility to crafting a better future by responding to these issues."
The many offers of assistance to the Newtown community helps "create balance," Fitzgerald says.
"It can never be enough to bring back the Newtown people we lost, and we will never not know what happened," Fitzgerald says. "But it helps you understand there is still love in the world."
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