The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

January 6, 2013

Newtown sets up task force to handle donations

(Continued)

NEWTOWN, Conn. —

“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.

“Our thing is warehouses,” said the Rev. William Warcholik, a pastor from Rhode Island. “Our specialty is collecting, organizing and distributing donated goods.”

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 neighborhood cleanups following two storms that brought down trees all over town.

“We referred to it as friends with chain saws,” Robin Fitzgerald said.

Immediately after the school massacre, which left 26 people dead, people started calling the Fitzgeralds looking for a way to help in the grief-stricken town.  Local churches and businesses began getting similar calls.

After meeting with town officials, the Red Cross and other stakeholders, the Fitzgeralds were put in charge of coordinating the volunteer effort.

They started working in their living room with a couple of cellphones and their own laptop computers. Local businessman Peter D’Amico gave them office space. Companies donated computers, Wi-Fi, phones and other equipment and set up a call center. The Newtown Volunteer Task Force now has a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a toll-free telephone number, (855) 364-6600, with eight lines coming in.

“Our mission here is to ease the burden on the town resources, matching people who feel the need to do something with a task that needed to be done,” 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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