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10 Lovely Stories of Kindness from Newtown (And How You Can Still Help)

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It's been nearly a week since the massacre in Newtown, and Ann Curry's #26acts campaign continues to zoom around the internet. Thousands of people have committed to doing small kindnesses in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As people from across the country (and the world) report on their acts of kindness, we decided to talk to the middlemen: people who are helping make those acts happen for the people of Newtown by taking donations, facilitating deliveries, and providing services to the town's families. Here are some of their stories, and how you can help, too.

1. Coffee for Everyone

Tom Cavanaugh is a 911 dispatcher in Northridge, CA. On Monday morning, he called Newtown General Store to donate 100 cups of coffee to residents of Newtown. After he tweeted the General Store's phone number, manager Peter Leone says that calls for donations came flooding in and haven't let up. "One person sent a food platter to the funeral home staff," and another ordered 600 teddy bears — one for the desk of each student at Sandy Hook Elementary for when classes resume in January. "It's like a 180 from the way people felt last week after the tragedy. Our hearts are so full."

Leone says that he thinks the town needs prayer the most right now, but if you'd like to help in a tangible way, he suggests ordering giftcards: "We can take care of them quickly, and people can use them at their convenience for anything they need."

To donate a Newtown General Store giftcard, call the store directly at 203-426-9901.

2. Make a Winter Wonderland

One way the Connecticut PTSA is helping students in the wake of the school shooting relies entirely on the assistance of generous and crafty donors: they're transforming Sandy Hook Elementary into a Winter Wonderland for returning students. So far, hundreds of handmade snowflakes in every shape and size have arrived at the state's PTSA office, but they're taking them all through January 12. Hundreds of updates about the project are floating around Twitter, with classrooms and parents organizing mass craft projects.

Making a paper snowflake is a very low-cost but significant gesture, and according to Connecticut PTSA President-Elect Don Romoser, this along with local donations for the coin drive are the most important to the school right now. "Current needs are being very well met," he said this morning, thanks to donations of supplies and cards of condolence coming in, so "the community is asking for monetary donations to assist with future needs and needs that are still unidentified." The funds donated to Connecticut's PTA will be "managed by parents in the Sandy Hook area as they deem necessary."

For more information on the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook project or to make a monetary donation to the Connecticut PTSA, visit ctpta.org or call 203-281-6617.

3. "Meals and goodies for anyone in need"

Image credit: DOrazio Sisters Bakery

In response to Ann Curry's call for random acts of kindness, one woman said she'd made a $50 donation to DOrazio Sisters Bakery, a local business in Newtown that deals in Italian sweets and dinners. Whether that tweet began the flood of donations or not is debatable, but co-owner Jojo DOrazio says the store received — and is still receiving — an incredible amount of money for food to be delivered to the families of Sandy Hook victims, first responders, and staff and volunteers at various local groups. "It's overwhelming," she said; the store took in "a couple thousand dollars just yesterday" and the donations are "still coming every minute." Those donations will be put to good use, too; the DOrazio sisters say they'll "keep going until the money runs out, probably in January or February."

DOrazio Sisters Bakery will continue accepting donations and providing "meals and goodies for anyone in need" as long as there's money coming in. You can help by donating a dollar or one hundred dollars, or anything between or beyond, to provide food for area families.

4. Security Blankets

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Project Linus is a beautiful charity that donates handmade blankets to children in need. The blankets themselves are usually donations from warm-hearted knitters and quilters, and dozens of people have tweeted about their donations to the project. But they aren't the only few; a Project Linus representative told me that the incoming blanket donations were so vast and immediate that there is no longer a need for blankets in Newtown — by Monday, more than 800 children had received a handmade gift from the charity "because the donations came in so fast, we were already there."

However, don't let that dissuade you from being involved. Project Linus, according to their rep, "always falls short on monetary donations," which allow chapters to "ship the blankets to children and supplies to areas in need." If you would like to help Project Linus with shipping and delivery costs, you can make a donation on the organization's website. And if you would like to send a handmade blanket to any other chapter, those donations are always welcome, as well.

5. Give Time

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In addition to all the monetary donations for goods in Newtown, many of the #26acts involved offering personal time as the town struggles to meet ongoing grief counseling efforts. The need for professional support will "extend well beyond January" when children return to school, and can be "supplemented by monetary donations," but will ultimately require feet on the ground, says a representative from Danbury Hospital Foundation Office. To offer your time or to sponsor the foundation, visit Danbury Hospital's site or call 203.739.7227.

6. Make Connections

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The needs of the Newtown community are varied and complex, and many may be as yet unidentified. While the local police station has "rooms full of teddy bears" and as each of these businesses work to fulfill the needs of Newtown residents, Newtown Parent Connection, the town's family services organization, is working in partnership with other local businesses toward naming and managing the rest. Assistance is being provided in every conceivable way through Parent Connections and their partners to grieving families and residents, an effort that requires both funding and volunteerism. As Parent Connection donations come in, a partner (who asked not to be identified) says "[they]'re earmarking funds for when children return to school in January, and in the spring we're planning to do something for the surviving siblings."

To assist with ongoing efforts in Newtown, the local toy store is donating 20% of their profits to Parent Connection, and 100% of that organization's funding goes directly into community efforts. For more info, visit the Newtown Parent Connection website or call 203.270.1600.

7. Send Words

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You probably haven't heard of Evergram, a startup that launched officially on November 1, 2012. The service sends secure, private messages (text, video or audio) to a chosen recipient at a later date. Evergram co-founder and Chief Product Officer Jeff Caden explains it this way: "When you disrupt time, in essence, by sending a message in the future, a lot of the same behaviors that we see in letter-writing — the tone and level of connectedness — are enhanced in a way you don't see in social media and the like." An Evergram campaign to collect messages of condolence for Newtown residents was initiated this week, and Caden says around 4,000 Evergrams have already been banked for Newtown families. Around 10% of those who sent a message also went on to make a donation through the Evergram site. (In a follow-up email, Caden says that in addition to the official Sandy Hook page, "at least one of the families has created their own Evergram for their close family and friends, which has also garnered an additional 1500+ messages of support and love.")

Though a letter from a stranger may seem a small gesture, Caden hopes the nature of Evergram's service will affect change, and not just in Newtown: "Our hope is that in a very small way that this may help over time to console some of the families that are going through so much grief right now, and in some ways to help the rest of our society help process the same grief and outrage that's associated with this tragedy. That's really our hope. In our own way, we're just doing what we can, just like everyone else."

You can send your own message, and make a donation if you'd like, at Evergram's dedicated Sandy Hook page.

8. A Safe Zone

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Save the Children, an independent organization that partners with local communities to provide aid and relief to children in need, set up a Child Friendly Space in a Newtown intermediate school after the group was called in by the American Red Cross. A representative says that this week the Space has provided at least 100 children with "a sort of safety zone for the kids, where they can play or draw or talk, or whatever they need to do." The service offers counseling for children and adults, and offers tips for grief counseling on their website for anyone in need.

You can help Save the Children provide continued efforts in Newtown and in needy cities everywhere by donating time or money to the foundation.

9. Give Blood

In a brief chat with a woman at the American Red Cross this afternoon, I learned that many hundreds of units of blood and plasma have been donated in drives dedicated to Newtown families from all across the country. "It was quick," she said. "The calls started coming in as the news was breaking. People were so eager to help." While Newtown's needs have been met (and far exceeded), a blood donation to the ARC is always useful and can help in ways money can't. If you're interested in setting up your own drive or would like to donate, she says "We always need donations. Call your local chapter and ask them what they need most."

10. Focus on the Families

Every person I spoke to over the last 12 hours has made it a point to focus their energy on the survivors, on the community at large, and on bringing positive efforts into the fold. Not a single mention was made of the shooter or political reform. As Peter Leone told me, "The town is a very tight-knit community ... and the people are very family-oriented, there are a lot of kids in the town, and we all just hope we're going to get through this. Especially with Christmas and the holidays so close."

As Tom Cavanaugh, the man who donated 100 cups of coffee, said in his interview, it's time for the town to heal; "we'll take care of the rest." The resources listed above can help the rest of us keep up with what Newtown needs, and if we all do one small kindness, we can make sure that those needs are met.
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If you're participating in #26acts or have been the recipient of a random act of kindness this week, please share your story in the comments!

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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