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Newtown copes with flood of gifts since killings

NEWTOWN, Conn. -- Chris Kelsey is the tax assessor in Newtown but, for the better part of three weeks, his job has been setting up and organizing a warehouse to hold the toys, school supplies and other gifts donated since the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary school.

Despite the town's pleas to stop sending gifts, Kelsey said, trucks have been arriving daily with tokens of support from across the world, some for the families of those killed, others for the children of Sandy Hook, still others for the town.

"A lot of the town's normal business is still on pause," he said. "I have a couple of people still doing assessor's business, and then if they can, mail a couple hours, too. We're all kind of doing what we can to get this done."

A task force has been set up to coordinate the more than 800 volunteers who have been sorting the gifts, opening mail and answering emails and phone calls offering assistance.

The volunteers have begun making a dent in the pile of tens of thousands of teddy bears that stretched to the warehouse ceiling. By last week, they had sorted 30,000 of them into small, medium and large sizes, cataloged and boxed them.

They are also separating and boxing piles of crayons, pencils, books and much more.

"It's a ton of stuff, and we have an operation just as big for mail as well," Kelsey said.

There are also 26 large moving boxes in the warehouse, each labeled with a victim's name. When a gift comes in specifically addressed to those families, it goes in those boxes. The families have been coming in periodically to empty them.

A toy giveaway was held for all Newtown children before Christmas and some of the remaining toys and stuffed animals have been taken to children's hospitals. The rest will be stored until the town decides where they should go, Kelsey said. He said letters have been sent to each of the victims' families asking for their input. His cellphone is filled with emails from charities across the country.

"Everybody has a hand out," he said. "We're just beginning that process now. The charities suggested by the families will get the top priority."

The work organizing the warehouse is being done by volunteers from Adventist Community Services, a faith-based group that has done similar work after hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The group was paired with Kelsey after contacting the town's volunteer task force. Kevin and Robin Fitzgerald started the group last year to organize cleanups following two storms that brought down trees all over town.

"Our mission here is to ease the burden on the town resources," Kevin Fitzgerald said. "This is work FEMA or someone in government would do after a natural disaster, but there is no such thing for this kind of disaster."

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