Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Most Selfish Act: Sorting Mail for Newtown

A tiny portion of the snowflake mail that continues to arrive daily at the  Connecticut State PTSA offices.

A month after the tragedy in Newtown, many of us are still grappling with the staggering reality of what has happened. As we work through our own fears and grief, we come back again and again to the realization that for those families who were directly affected, there is almost nothing we can personally do to help ease their pain.

And so we in Connecticut, and indeed throughout the world, have tried to find a way to show support and love by heaping millions of homemade paper snowflakes upon this little town. It started simply enough, with a Facebook request from one well-meaning Newtown parent named Bonny Marsciano. But the project soon ballooned out of control.

When the mail got to be too much for Bonny, she asked the post office to forward the snowflake packages to the CT state PTSA offices. When the PTSA office was overrun, the packages were stored offsite. The project had to end. Long after the PTSA had asked people to stop making the snowflakes, the envelopes and boxes continued to pour in.

It's absurd when you think about it. What on earth can a community beset by unimaginable grief do with this avalanche of heartfelt crafting? It would take a year to hang all the snowflakes that were delivered, even if Newtown and all of its surrounding towns had the manpower, space and stamina to do it. And then what? Still, as a symbol, the act of making and sharing those little paper cutouts, made by children and adults from every state and nearly every continent, has provided its own therapy of sorts. Early on, my own family even donated a few carefully designed snowflakes to the wintry mix. It was a pleasant diversion during a long winter break, and it helped to remind us of all that we are grateful for.

Back at the PTSA offices, it soon became clear that even sorting through the mail to get the crafts into the right hands would be a gargantuan task. So when the call went out to our school’s PTA that help was needed to sort and repackage all the lovingly wrapped envelopes and boxes, I jumped at the chance to do something. Anything.

In some ways, volunteering to help sort snowflakes was the most selfish of acts -- it was a way to demand collusion in the grief process; it was a way to verify that others (many many others) wanted to help and could find no other way to do so than to cut millions of diamonds into little scraps of paper; it was a way to confirm both the fragility and futility of life.

More importantly, participating in the project was a way to renew my own faith that community matters. Not just for the big things, like rebuilding a child's sense of security after an unspeakable tragedy, but for the little things too, like sorting the mail and reading the kind words of strangers. I needed this time. I needed this act.

I am so grateful that the CT PTSA office sent out the call for help. Just down the street from my house, where a tractor-trailor full of snowflake mail sat waiting, there was a place where I could finally do something to help someone, if only for a few hours.

Probably that someone was me. 

A map showing where packages of snowflakes originated. Every state was represented, and nearly every continent.

Pins indicate the countries that sent packages to Newtown. After awhile, we ran out of pins.


  1. Well said Tammy, well said.
    Thank you for sharing.

    1. You're welcome. Thank you for helping in the group therapy.

  2. I loved this post. My experience was so much the same, sorting through the cards at town hall. It was somehow therapeutic for me, even though the message weren't meant for me. To know that so many people care about the people of Newtown is healing.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog - glad to have found you! :)


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