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An avalanche of altruism

With donations piling up at a warehouse, Newtown finds itself awash in teddy bears.

NEWTOWN, Conn. - Christmas is gone, and with it the satellite trucks, and now the residents of this most famous small town in America are left with tens of thousands of teddy bears that they don't know what to do with.

Mountains of plush stuffed animals - some the size of grizzlies - await itemizing and boxing in a warehouse just east of Main Street, where the highest flag in town now flies at full-staff.

Two weeks after the mass shooting at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School, nearly a week after the streets were jammed with hearses and funeral processions, Newtown is digging itself out from an avalanche of altruism.

On Thursday afternoon, the warehouse for donations contained more gifts than there are residents of Newtown (28,000): letters of condolence from Pakistan, granola bars from Utah, boxes of teddy bears outfitted in leather pilot jackets that were hand-delivered by a man who drove up from Texas.

No matter the nature of a tragedy, the ensuing donations always outweigh what's actually needed, said Lauren Trahan, a member of the Adventist Community Services' disaster response team.

"For Americans, the way you help is you give stuff," said Trahan, who lives across the state, in Plainfield, Conn.

"It's how people make themselves feel better," said Christopher Kelsey, a former Newtown assessor who is handling logistics at the warehouse.

"And that's not a bad thing," Trahan said.

The inventory of donations continues about a mile east of the warehouse in a suite of donated office space, where the Newtown Volunteer Task Force staffs a call center.

Each caller and offer is entered into a database for future reference.

Newtown resident Kevin Fitzgerald, who helped organize the task force last year to aid in storm cleanup, understands everyone's desire to feel useful in the aftermath of such an abstract tragedy.

"It's not like a building fell over and you can clean up debris," Fitzgerald said. "There's nothing tangible you can fix."