The sky was still tinged with the pink of sunrise as the Boy Scouts lined up to unload cars at Sandy Hook School Saturday morning. Families arrived one car after the next, delivering food, gifts and various necessities for 64 Newtown families who are struggling to make ends meet.
It was all part of an annual Holiday Basket program The Newtown Fund nonprofit has organized for the past two dozen or so years.
“We have the most wonderful outpouring of help," a smiling Linda Bates, chairman of the all-volunteer program, said after a quick laugh. "The best thing is that this is all Newtown families serving Newtown families. It's so heartwarming, it makes you feel so good. We're Santa's elves. I have been doing this for 24 years. We come in each year and get right to work. We're like a well oiled machine.”
The process starts with the town's social services department, which sends out questionnaires to families to see whether they qualify for the baskets, which provide household necessities as well as gifts for family members in the form of toys, coats or other requested items, according to Bates.
"This year there were only 64 families," she said. "Usually we have about 80 families but there was a reorganization and there has been some concern that many families fell through the cracks. We know the need is there.”
As the Boy Scouts filled numbered boxes that lined the hallways, the Girl Scouts sorted gloves, hats and other items to be added to the boxes.
“Between the troops, the families that buy things, the people who drive, over 300 people contributed to the effort," said Jennifer Johnson, leader of Girl Scout Troop 50843.
The volunteer effort is so popular that Jeff Price, scout master of Troop 307 said organizers must schedule two shifts so that all of the boys can participate.
“They love this," he said. "The scouts also have to participate if they want to attend the campout tonight.”
The campout is part of the local Boy Scouts' tradition, though it's far from being a quiet night for the adults.
“It's the night scout masters go deaf,” Bill Watts, assistant scout master said. “Kids bring their own video games and we provide pizza and snacks. It's an indoor camp out.”
Kyle Watts, 17, who has been participating in the Holiday Basket effort for seven years, said he's thankful that he gets to be a part of the program.
“It feels good to do this," he said. "Someone had to do it, and I am glad it's us.”
In addition to the scouts, adults also come to volunteer, such as Mary Davis, who said she donates as well as delivers the donations in honor of her grandmother.
“I think people don't realize the need. It's so heartwarming to be part of a small town that can do something like this,” she said. “People look at Newtown as an affluent town, but there is a lot of need, too. I like it that there are no administrative costs, and all donations go towards the families. People are very generous.”