“Hope for Sandy Hook” benefit dinner raises $3,400 for Newtown families

Rebecca Castagna

Students from Sandy Hook Elementary returned to school on Thursday for the first time since the Newtown school shooting. Thursday night also marked the “Hope for Sandy Hook” benefit dinner at Woodwinds in Branford, Conn. where 127 people got together and raised $3,403.36 for these students and their families.

Quinnipiac University’s interfaith groups organized the event and received donations and support from people across the country. The money raised surpassed the amount they expected to donate to Newton Youth and Family Services for grief counseling, event coordinator sophomore Ashley Alcott said.

The speakers at the dinner left people with messages of hope, faith and comfort, and a reason to look forward to what they can do next to help.

State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield stressed the need for people to consider these values in the upcoming discussions of how to respond to the Newtown school shooting.

“Beyond hope, there’s belief,” Holder-Winfield said. “Hope allows us to hold on. Belief gives us reason to act.”

“I believe that most things that happen to us, no matter how tragic they are, have a reason for happening. I hope that part of the reason that this happened is that we evaluate ourselves and that we talk to each other differently,” he said.

Holder-Winfield referenced the “26 acts” of kindness that people have been promoting on social media, and said he hopes the idea extends beyond a meme, and becomes a part of the way people operate from day to day.

“To be kind because we are in pain is fine, but to be kind because that pain has transformed us is important,” he said. “I hope this pain transforms us and makes us better.”

Former Hamden Board of Education chairperson and State Rep. Michael D’Agostino said people need to act on what they believe in to make an effective change. He posed the question, “What else can we do?”

D’Agostino said legislators will soon be working to make changes by discussing several issues, including the state of the mental health system in the upcoming legislative session.

“From when I joined the Board of Education in Hamden to when I left recently, this incredible proliferation that we’ve seen in children younger and younger with emotional and psychological problems coming into our school system is gut-wrenching,” D’Agostino said.

Though D’Agostino said finding a solution to this problem would be a discussion for another place and time, he stressed the importance of everyone recognizing that as a state and society people are failing those children, and legislators need help in solving these problems.

“We can mandate coverage, we can make public programs available to private providers, [but] we can’t do things like that alone,” D’Agostino said. “It’s not only individual will of the legislator, but it’s political will. It’s collective will.”

He called on people in attendance to work with their legislators to make a difference.

“Help us. An email you send will be just as important as every dollar you raised tonight if you believe in those issues,” D’Agostino said.

Alcott said when people see how college students put this event together in less than a month’s time using mostly social media and gained the support from people across the country, they should feel inspired to help even more.

“If we can do it, they can do it,” Alcott said. “People have been doing all they can to donate to this specific event so I really just want people to see that if they’re ever in trouble or they need help, the Connecticut community will be there for them.”

Holder-Winfield said he hopes the people of Newtown feel comforted by the people of different faiths who came together to support them.

“We are here to bear whatever pain they can’t bear,” Holder-Winfield said. “We can look in the face of all kinds of strong opposition, we can look in the face of devastation, and we can get up and we can act.”