Minnesotans join the effort to create a "winter wonderland" in the Connecticut school building that surviving Sandy Hook children will attend.
Rachel Cafferty helped her 3-year-old daughter, Grace, make a snowflake Friday morning at Kindermusik of the Valley in Burnsville. The project, a time for parents and children to share, is also an outlet for those wanting to help after the mass shootings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school on Dec. 14.
As word spread about a national effort to create a beautiful snowscape within the halls of the school building where Sandy Hook Elementary School students will attend starting Jan. 3, Cheryle Carter was determined to see that Minnesota did its part.
As people from across the nation created handmade paper snowflakes, the Woodbury mother of two launched a blog, hunted down and linked a YouTube tutorial and hustled to spread the word.
"We are a winter wonderland," she said. "We have lots of snowflakes, and we should show our support to the children, to the families. Just because it wasn't our children, just because it wasn't our staff, doesn't mean we don't feel their pain."
The effort to transform Chalk Hill School, where the kids will attend, was spearheaded by the National PTA and the Connecticut PTSA organizations, said National PTA President Betsy Landers. It came out of a joint meeting the weekend after the mass shootings in the Newtown, Conn., school that left 20 children and six adults dead. The campaign stemmed from a realization that children and families from across the nation would want to help.
In addition to the request for snowflakes, which ends Jan. 12, the two groups are recommending penny drives and other small-scale fundraisers to help the Sandy Hook PTA provide counseling, organize family gatherings and offer other resources to help its community heal.
The National PTA has endorsed targeted fundraisers before -- in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example -- but nothing on this scale, said spokesman James Martinez.
Though Newtown city officials recently asked the public to end a steady stream of Christmas gifts, the Connecticut PTSA is still accepting snowflakes and monetary donations.
"This is going to be something that has long-term effects, and there's going to be a lot of support needed over the course of time, too," Landers said.
She added that family time spent together over the holidays, cutting snowflakes from paper triangles, is a great time for all parents to check in with their families, to assess how the kids are feeling as the day approaches when they'll return to their own schools.
On Friday morning, a small group of mothers guided big, plastic scissors in their preschoolers' hands, part of an arts and crafts activity at Kindermusik of the Valley in Burnsville.
Director Helen Peterson said she learned of the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook effort through a friend who is a kindergarten teacher in a Connecticut town not far from Newtown.
In addition to donations from two Friday events at Kindermusik, she has collected a veritable snowdrift from an elementary school in Savage.
Among the parents at Kindermusik were teachers Keri Vold and Rachel Cafferty, with daughters Sofia and Grace, both 3. For them, the craft session was a time to reflect.
"It's important to spend time thinking about what those kids had to offer the world," Vold said. Turning to her own daughter, she added, "I've been thinking about how you want to savor every moment and not take anything for granted."
So far, Carter has gotten the city of Woodbury to offer Central Park and Bielenberg Sports Center as drop-off locations for the snowflakes. She's working to find businesses, cities and other organizations that will volunteer to provide more locations, and she promises to put them on her blog, snowflakesforsandyhook.blogspot.com.
Donors should be sure to put their names and their hometowns on their cut-outs. Carter has also created a Facebook page for Snowflakes for Sandy Hook: www.facebook.com/SnowflakesForSandyHook Minnesota.
Snowflakes can also be mailed directly to Newtown: Connecticut PTSA, 60 Connolly Pkwy., Building 12, Suite 103, Hamden, CT 06514. Monetary donations can also be sent there. Other donation ideas are available on the Newtown Public Schools website, www.newtown.k12.ct.us.
Carter wants to make sure that the losses in Newtown are remembered.
"We just came from the holidays and we had a great time, but still, twenty 6- and 7-year-olds are dead," she said. "The big thing is to push it so we don't forget."
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409