The world has been very generous in the aftermath of an awful tragedy, but Newtown officials say they're overwhelmed by the donations of stuffed animals and toys.
School buses, moving vans, 18-wheelers and U-Haul trucks full of toys and stuffed animals have driven to Newtown from across the nation. Town officials are grateful for the gifts, which fill two warehouses.
On Wednesday, the first selectman, police chief and mayor asked through an editor at The Newtown Bee that people stop sending gifts to town.
The town is setting up the Newtown Memorial Fund, and questions can be directed to email@example.com. The town has not yet set up a nonprofit organization to manage the funds, but a notice distributed by town employees says some of the money could go to annual scholarships.
In the meantime, town officials say people may donate to Sandy Hook School Support Fund, c/o Newtown Savings Bank, 39 Main St., Newtown 06470 or to the Newtown Memorial Fund. The fund is operated through the United Way of Western Connecticut, at http://newtown.uwwesternct.org.
The town also has yet to decide what to do with the stuffed animals and mementos arriving via mail and delivered to two warehouses on Simm Lane and Trades Lane.
Other stuffed animals, placed outside as sidewalk or roadside memorials, are a different matter. Most are already saturated with rain and melted snow.
Roadside tributes have been set up in Sandy Hook, at Newtown High School, at Edmond Town Hall and throughout town. Fred Hurley, Newtown Public Works director, said the toys, pictures, stuffed animals, flowers and other items left on public property will be collected by the highway department after Jan. 1, giving people some more time to express their sadness and sympathy.
The items will be collected and the material used for a permanent memorial.
"You want to be respectful of all the people who are leaving mementos, whether they be flowers, whether they be teddy bears, whether it be a candle," Hurley said. "We don't want to just throw these items away. And we want people to feel that it will become a part of any permanent memorial that is eventually designed and developed here in Newtown."
Organic material such plants and flowers will be shredded and turned into mulch, which could be stored until it can be used in landscaping at a memorial site.
"The non-organic materials present a lot of different challenges," Hurley said. "You've got teddy bears, you've got photographs with glass frames, you've got various types of metal and other plastics. … It's anything and everything you can think of in terms of material."
The town is considering grinding up the teddy bears, picture frames and everything else, which would be stirred into a cement slurry. The cement would be formed into blocks for use as part of a memorial to the women and children who were killed.
"Anything that's left over that's not organic, we can find some way to incorporate it into a cement product," Hurley said. "It might be used in a memorial as a walkway. It might be used structurally. It might be used any number of ways, or, just simply, it's a way to store and secure it forever and then incorporate it in some way into the permanent monument, however, that is designed and constructed."
The idea came, in part, from memorial reefs in Florida — artificial reefs in the ocean that are made from the cremated remains of people who want to donate their bodies for that cause, Hurley said.
"The use of the concrete slurry to incorporate all the materials together" came from the idea of memorial reefs, Hurley said. "That's the problem: the different types of materials, it's not that easy to incorporate them together. The slurry seemed to be the universal answer to tying them all together."
Hurley didn't venture a guess at the volume of material people have left all over town. It's safe to say that sidewalk tributes include thousands of stuffed animals — separate from the tens of thousands that are boxed up and in storage, arriving every day at the warehouses.
First Selectman Patricia Llodra said the memorial will hold the messages and symbols from mourners since the Dec. 14 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
An Associated Press reported is included in this story.