EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Cookies from Cordillera are helping Newtown smile again.
Like the child who wandered into the Newtown General Store and Deli to ask for his free cookie. He smiled up at owner Pete Leone and asked for an extra cookie for his sister.
"Aren't you an only child?" Leone said smiling down at the child, as he handed over another cookie.
As the child reached to the top of the counter, he smiled. Cookies can do that.
"My children came home with a cookie. In addition to bringing a smile, it opens a conversation about love and peace, and how good people are in this world."
- Dawn Gray, Newtown, Conn.
Two days after the Sandy Hook shootings catapulted the quiet Connecticut town into the glare of the national spotlight, Cordillera residents Lainie Edinburg, Joel Kaye and Anne Roberts started cookies rolling in Connecticut.
Like all of us, Edinburg grew furious as she watched the story unfold.
"I was so upset and angry when I was watching the news, filled with the heartbreaking stories and photos of these beautiful children killed," Edinburg said. "I had to do something positive with all of my anger!"
Edinburg was watching a national newscast when she learned someone in California had bought coffee and sandwiches from the Newtown General Store for first responders.
"I was getting inundated from people all over the world. We were bombarded with people wanting to give money, gifts, people wanting to do something to help," Leone said.
A guy bought all the tickets for a Saturday night movie at the Newtown theater and gave them away to Newtown residents. A group gave them 10,000 pink stuffed dinosaurs.
"I kept thinking about all of those children in the schools and how they were coping, along with the anguish of the parents," Edinburg said.
That's when she came up with the Cookies for Newtown Kids project. Roberts was raised in Newtown, and was happy to help.
So far, 80 Cordillera residents have chipped in for chocolate chips and raised money for raisins - more than $6,000 in a few days.
When Pete returned Edinburg's phone calls, she said, "We raised more than $6,000 for cookies!"
Pete stopped for a second and answered, "Well, OK, but we can't bake them all at once."
"My name is Matt and I go to high school in Newtown. I wanted to send you a thank you note for all the cookies you sent to Misty Vale Deli. It brings a smile to my face every time I see a box of those cookies on the front counter of the store."
- Matt Argraves, Newtown, Conn.
The cookies are great. The message they send is better.
Some of the 27 victims were Leone's customers. One of the murdered children was in the store an hour earlier with his father getting breakfast. An hour later his father was identifying his son's body. The father came in the next day. When one of the staff asked if his son had made it out his eye went downcast as he shook his head.
Leone and his crew bake 450 cookies at a time, chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin, 5 inches wide and stuffed with so many chocolate chips that kids wear chocolate grins when they take a bite. Kids pick them up at the Newtown General Store and the Misty Vale Deli and General Store in Sandy Hook.
The Newtown General Store was built in 1847 when Newtown was founded. The flag Leone flies outside has 29 stars, the number U.S. flag had when the store opened its doors. The floors and walls are original so tread lightly; you're walking on history.
Newtown is 27,000 people spread over 60 square miles. It's only an hour from NYC, but it's a different world, Leone said. Newtown is a different world than it used to be two months ago.
"My high school children taught swim lessons to two of the children who were killed. This is a small community ... we are all connected."
- Dawn Gray, Newtown, Conn.
Leone delivers food to schools and sees children playing near the two police cars at every school.
During those first frantic minutes original news reports said there were two shooters. Leone's daughter was home sick that day as police in helicopters were looking for that second shooter.
"Sandy Hook elementary school is about 500 yards from my house and there's nothing between my house and the school but woods," Leone said. "Try having a half dozen helicopters hovering over your house looking for a shooter."
As more information became available they began asking themselves and one another, "Who would open fire in a school of first through fourth graders?"
There are no suitable answers, of course, so they do what they can to move forward. You never get over it, Leone says. You try to learn to live with it.
"Now that all the attention has faded, there's nothing to distract you. It's very reassuring that they haven't been forgotten. The people appreciate it. It really hits home," Leone said.
"This has been a hard time for all of us, and just seeing the support from Edwards, Colorado brings a smile to my face."
- Michael Trevail, a first responder from Buena Vista who moved to Newtown three years ago.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.