The $8.5 million collected in the Sandy Hook School Support Fund will be distributed by a foundation that will actively seek public input before distributing the donated money, officials announced a press conference Friday morning.
The foundation was created by a transition team formed to handle the donations following the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first-grade students and six school officials were shot to death by Newtown resident Adam Lanza.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman was asked to advise the new foundation by the United Way, which has partnered with the Newtown Savings Bank and town officials for the last month as an ad hoc transition team handling the millions that have poured into Newtown since the massacre.
"[The transition team] wants, as quickly as they can, to turn these responsibilities over to a broad-based community foundation which will be transparent, all inclusive and which will then assume the responsibility for guarding the money and spending it in the most productive way," Lieberman explained.
The foundation's members will be chosen from the community, from the family and friends of the victims as well as local officials. There will be "guaranteed public input in the distribution process – the spending committee will include local people and it will be a requirement that [they] have a public input process," explained a Newtown selectman, Will Rodgers, who was on the transition team.
"We hope that [Lieberman's] name cachet and his reputation alone will allay any fears as to what's happening with this fund," Rodgers explained, adding later: "It's likely that the families will have a substantial role in the foundation. They will have a leading role."
Lieberman lauded the transition team and "the values, the strength and the unity of Newtown in response to this tragedy."
"I cannot think of a time when I have been prouder of people in Connectiuct than I have been of the people in Sandy Hook and Newtown in response to this tragedy…it has touched the world. It's part of the reason why people have been…sending these checks to Newtown," Lieberman said.
At several times during the press conference, the transition team emphasized that the Newtown Savings Bank and the United Way did not and would not accept any fees for handling and supervising the collection of the donated money.
Kim Morgan, CEO of the United Way of Western Connecticut, said that the $8.5 million came into Newtown in many forms from pennies to checks as large as $150,000, corporate contributions and money from people raising money independently. She anticipates that the donations will continue for a few months to come.
"When we stepped in to start this fund…it was with the intent that we would be turning those funds over to the community," Morgan said. "United Way will remain as an advisor but we will not have a vote in how the funds are distributed. Such a large fund must be distributed thoughtfully…we know it'll take some time for the community to hear from people."
Morgan said that the United Way has heard from those in need for weeks including families affected directly and indirectly by the tragedy, from people who cannot return to work, people who need counseling, from families struggling to return children to school.
The United Way has committed $200,000 – separate from the money that has been donated – to help those in need, Morgan said. Approximately 75 percent of that money is dedicated to people suffering hardship because they cannot work and for counseling. The remainder of that United Way money will be used for school safety – including two-way radios for teachers so they can communicate with first-responders – and for activities that could help local children heal, she said.Copyright © 2015, CT Now