Jessica Hill / AP
From left: Carlee Soto, sister of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Victoria Soto; Erica Lafferty and George Hochsprung, daughter and husband of victim Dawn Hochsprung; Robbie and Alyssa Parker, parents of Emilie Parker; and Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, parents of Jesse Lewis. They stand with other family members as they address media on Monday in Newtown, Conn.
One year after a school shooting devastated Newtown, Conn., more than $27 million has been raised in the tragedy's name for a wide variety of causes, from support for the victims' families and gun-control efforts to money for a local Boy Scout troop and an animal sanctuary.
Sixty-three funds and charities have collected millions since the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting, according to a survey by the Connecticut Attorney General's Office and the state Department of Consumer Protection.
Approximately $12 million has yet to be distributed, with much of the remaining money said to be intended for long-term needs such as providing mental health resources, scholarships for affected students and funding for when Newtown comes to an agreement on a physical memorial to the victims.
This week, the victims' families gathered to encourage people to honor the victims with acts of kindness and said in a statement that they were “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support and generosity they have received. Twenty-six people, including 20 schoolchildren, were killed in the massacre.
Carlos Soto is the 16-year-old brother of Vicki Soto, a first-grade teacher who was killed shielding her students during the shooting. He said the turnout at the first annual Vicki Soto 5K Run in Stratford shocked him. More than 2,000 people attended the Nov. 2 race, raising over $50,000 for the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, a scholarship for aspiring educators.
Pink flamingos, Vicki’s favorite animal, lined the race route, and many runners came dressed in flamingo costumes or donned pink sportswear.
“It’s absolutely amazing to see that it’s been a year later and people haven’t forgotten,” he said. “It really shows the love and support that our local community has.”
Many of the established charities mirror Soto's effort, targeting a specific cause important to one of the victims. The Animal Center Inc., has collected more than $250,000 for an animal sanctuary in honor of slain first-grader Catherine Hubbard. Nearly $98,000 has been raised in part to fund a scholarship at the high school alma mater of Dawn Hochsprung, the Sandy Hook principal killed in the attack.
Below, we focus on a handful of the many charities and highlight their accomplishments this year:
Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation
The Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation has raised more than $12 million, according to a survey of participating charities. The group has distributed $7.7 million directly to the families of those killed, two teachers wounded during the incident and the 12 surviving children present in the targeted classrooms that day.
The United Way of Western Connecticut and Newtown Savings Bank created the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, which transformed into the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, immediately after the attack.
While the group has been criticized for not distributing its funds fast enough, Executive Director Jennifer Barahona said the remaining $4.3 million was set aside for short- and long-term unmet needs in the community. The foundation is not actively fund raising at this time, but is still accepting donations.
My Sandy Hook Family Fund
The My Sandy Hook Family Fund raised and distributed more than $1.6 million this year, according to the relief survey.
“The [fund] was created basically by parents and the children who survived; we’re Sandy Hook residents,” fund director and co-founder Robert Accomando said.
Every penny of the proceeds is evenly distributed to the 26 families of the slain victims.
“It’s a very humble and special effort and warmed everybody’s heart to see tens of thousands of individual donations from regular people,” he said.
Last weekend, about a hundred people braved the cold waters of Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn., in a “penguin plunge” that raised $26,000 for the fund, Accomando sad.
Newtown Youth and Family Services
Newtown Youth and Family Services, the designated mental-health agency for the town, saw a 75 percent increase in its number of clients in the last year, Executive Director Candice Bohr. In response to that growing need, the agency raised approximately $1.2 million, the survey showed. About one third of the funds have been spent so far for hiring additional staff and expanding their space.
Bohr said that the agency has been providing support to Newtown for 30 years and would continue to do so in the long term.
“This is not something that’s over and done within a year, the families and the neighbors of Newtown are going to live with it the rest of their lives,” she said.
Sandy Hook School Fund
The Newtown Rotary Foundation’s Sandy Hook School Fund has raised nearly $800,000 and has spent or committed to spend about $480,000, according to Newtown Rotary Club board member Alan Clavette.
Until Sept. 30 of this year, Clavette said the fund had been covering immediate and emergency expenses, including living expenses and counseling, for the families of victims, families with children attending Sandy Hook, teachers, school personnel and first responders to the shooting. Since then, proceeds have gone toward continued and future mental-health counseling.
Clavette said in the aftermath of Sandy Hook's closure, the schoolchildren needed to be bused to a school in neighboring Monroe. The rotary fund has covered the costs of transport through the end of this school year, he said.
Sandy Hook Promise Foundation and Action Fund
Tim Makris, executive director of Sandy Hook Promise, said the goal of his foundation is to foster research and education to help prevent gun violence throughout the nation. The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation and Action Fund together have raised about $3.5 million dollars, Makris said, with $2.5 million dedicated to education efforts in addition to providing need-based assistance for affected families and individuals.
The Action Fund has raised $500,000 toward lobbying at the state and federal level for policy change that encourages “sensible solutions” within communities to combat gun violence, such as mental-health screenings and resources and education in schools and among civic groups, he said.
For Carlos Soto, the scholarship created in his sister’s name has provided an opportunity to give back to his community. Aside from the scholarships for aspiring teachers, Soto said he and his family have a launched a project to provide books for schools.
“My little mission is to collect books and send them to schools in need,” he said. “We just got approved by the local Board of Education to do fundraisers in local elementary schools and do a book drive.”
And locals can definitely expect another flurry of flamingos at the second annual Vicki Soto 5K.
“These people are going to come out again and they’re not going to forget my sister,” he said.
First published December 14 2013, 1:50 AM