Newtown Volunteers Could Use a Break From Sorting Sympathy Gifts

A message to US President Barack Obama at a makeshift shrine to the victims of the December 14, 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, is seen amid toy animals on December 17, 2012. Funerals began Monday in the little Connecticut town of Newtown after the school massacre that took the lives of 20 small children and six staff, triggering new momentum for a change to America's gun culture. The first burials, held under raw, wet skies, were for two six-year-old boys who were among those shot in Sandy Hook Elementary School. On Tuesday, the first of the girls, also aged six, was due to be laid to rest. There were no Monday classes at all across Newtown, and the blood-soaked elementary school was to remain a closed crime scene indefinitely, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel DUNAND

The citizens of Newtown, overwhelmed by the thousands of teddy bears, granola bars, and other sympathy gifts that have come streaming in after the shooting two weeks ago, have set up a regular full-time processing operation to deal with them all. And they'd like to have a break, officials announced on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Washington Post took us inside the massive operation that's dealing with the thousands of gifts that have already come in.

At the warehouse, which is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., boxes the size of a hot tub are labeled with the names of families of the victims (“Hubbard,” “Hsu,” “Hochsprung”). Pallets of toys are wheeled into a room where residents box and label them (“6 medium teddy bears” and “484,” the inventory code for stuffed animals). The boxes are then stacked in the back of the warehouse until the town can decide what to do with them; most will likely be re-donated to needier parts of the country.

They also have eight phone lines set up for volunteers to work through the 20,000 calls that have come in offering "everything from coloring books to a two-night stay at a cottage on their farm in Lake Como, Pa." They've gotten to about 2,200 so far. Needless to say, if you were looking for something altruistic to do with unwanted Christmas presents, the people of Newtown would appreciate it if you would look elsewhere.