As Monday night's Board of Selectmen meeting got underway, First Selectman Pat Llodra apologized for the mess in the conference room at the Newtown Municipal Center.
A long table sat in the middle of the room. The floor was strewn with glitter and paper. Volunteers and professionals had helped 75,000 pieces of mail pass through the room since the early days after the Sandy Hook school shooting. This includes letters, cards and gifts like snowflakes, blankets and bears -- and, in some cases, cash.
"We're sitting amongst glitter and evidence of a lot of hard work today," said Llodra. The room -- normally the site of many town board meetings - has served as a sorting room for mail. Community volunteers have been working to ensure that the mail -- bins and bins of it -- is correctly processed. Because presence of cash and check donations are involved, the process requires careful attention.
"We have a legal framework we have to follow and framework established by auditors," said Llodra. "But we also want to be sure we respect the intention of the donor. There's extraordinary care taken with these donations. That's one of the reasons we're processing so laboriously."
On Sunday, Llodra said, United States Postal Service employees joined in the effort, alongside about 20 volunteers at a time working two-hour shifts. She praised the USPS's professionalism and speed.
"This was an extraordinary service," she said. "I believe, watching them deal with the material they dealt with, our ability is much less than those folks. They're very skilled, when they look at a document or letter, at knowing the key things to look for."
Finance Director Robert Tait described the sorting as a multi-step process. First, volunteers check addresses.
"If it's addressed to savings bank or families, or outside agencies, we put it aside," he said. "If it's addressed to us, they open."
Next, letters with gift cards, cash and checks are separated, and workers carefully record the donation amount -- along with the intended use for the donation, he said. Checks are sent to the finance director's office.
At the time, Llodra says, they're not looking for additional volunteers.
"We have a full schedule for this week in two-hour shifts, and we're hoping we can get it done this week," she said. "Once we're done with this meeting we'll set the room up again so workers can jump right in."
She praised the effort of the volunteer groups.
"It's really heartwarming to see numbers of people showing up for those shifts," she said. "Out of a very horrible thing, I do believe some good things happen. One very small good thing is we have a spirit of volunteerism in the community. So many people can help us find our way to get to this next step. We've been hurt badly, but we're blessed in many ways."