Pillowcases aim to comfort survivors of Newtown, Conn., shooting

Personally sewn, fun-fabric children’s pillowcases like these were sent from northwest Ohio and all over the world in hopes of bring-ing smiles to the children who survived the Sandy Hook shooting.
Personally sewn, fun-fabric children’s pillowcases like these were sent from northwest Ohio and all over the world in hopes of bring-ing smiles to the children who survived the Sandy Hook shooting.

PORT CLINTON — It’s a seemingly small gesture, really.

A place to rest your head, close your eyes and go to sleep.

But for the small survivors of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a personally decorated pillowcase portrays the dreams they have already had, and perhaps is a place to dream of better days to come than the ones so recently behind them.

In a request that was responded to worldwide — including from here in northwest Ohio — a quilting store owner on the outskirts of Newtown watched in amazement as volunteers banded together at her request for 600 decorative pillowcases for the children who survived, sending not just the hundreds, but more than 9,000.

“It’s a little thing, but they have been very excited with them,” Becky Frazer, owner of Quilter’s Corner in New Milford, Conn., said of the children receiving the pillowcases. “It gives them a minute of peace.”

Linda Peiffer of Catawba Island Township near Port Clinton is the northwest Ohio chapter coordinator of ConKerr Cancer, an international organization that makes decorative pillows for cancer-stricken children in hospitals.

The local chapter has more than 100 volunteers in Ottawa, Wood, and Lucas counties and beyond, and the majority of the 2,400 pillowcases they have sewn since the group organized a year ago have been distributed to ill children at Toledo Children’s Hospital and at Mercy Children’s Hospital.

But when Mrs. Peiffer saw the request from Connecticut, she packed up 60 pillowcases sewn with holiday themes, sports memorabilia, Disney characters, princesses, peace signs, and penguins, and shipped them to the shop.

At least one of those pillowcases went to a little boy who attended Sandy Hook Elementary and survived the shooting. His father responded to Mrs. Peiffer via email after his son brought the pillowcase home.

“As soon as he came in from school, he pulled out the pillow case, which was covered with small orange basketballs, ran to his room, brought down his pillow and promptly replaced the plain dull white one with his new snazzy case. He loves it.

“Thank you very much for the thoughts and efforts, we appreciate them more than you know. The outpouring of support for our children has been amazing and heartwarming.

“Again, thank you for all that you do to bring a smile to the rest of the world.

“Warmest Regards,

“A Happier Student’s Dad”

For Mrs. Peiffer, it was an email that lit up the world.

“It really made my day,” she said. “I passed it on to my volunteers — they are the ones that make this happen.”

Karen Kotula of Bowling Green is one of those volunteers. She estimates that she has sewn more than 100 pillowcases for sick children here since the program started in northwest Ohio.

“That thank you note meant more than anything,” she said. “To know a child was touched by one of our pillowcases is really special.”

ConKerr Cancer was founded six years ago by Cindy Kerr, of the Philadelphia area, who started out sewing fun-fabric pillowcases to make hospital stays easier and less frightening for her son, Ryan, who was stricken with bone cancer.

Since that time, more than 600,000 pillowcases have been delivered to 250 hospitals throughout the country, according to the organization’s Web site.

“It’s all about what you give back. What those kids get, and what you get back from them is far more special than what you’ve ever given. It’s ten-fold,” Ms. Kotula said.

Twenty children and six adults died Dec. 14 when Adam Lanza, a 20-year-old who authorities said had mental health issues, shot his way into the school, killing students, teachers, and administrators, and then himself.

At the quilting shop in New Milford where Mrs. Peiffer’s box containing the brightly sewn cases landed, Ms. Frazer and organizers sifted through the overwhelming outpouring that came from not only here and all corners of the United States, but the world. Spain. Australia. England. Canada.

Despite the sizable response, organizers found people to treasure them.

“They all have homes, I have very few pillowcases in the store,” Ms. Frazer said. “It’s really pretty amazing to watch.

“And everyone is thanking us, which is healing, too, for the people who made them. It’s really touching,” she added.

More than 7,000 of the cases stayed in Newtown, a community of about 27,000, with many — like the little boy’s basketball pillowcase from Catawba — going directly to surviving children and their families.

About 700 pillowcases went to the school for distribution. Kids chose pillowcases for nieces, nephews, cousins.

The Boy Scout troop that lost six boys in the shooting received some.

So did the local dance class that lost a few of its little girls. Police officers assigned to the families who lost a child received pillowcases for their own families.

St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which handled many of the children’s funerals, received 600 pillowcases. Parish officials asked for more.

Some extras were even mailed to the East Coast for survivors of Hurricane Sandy.

Ms. Frazer sewed some of them herself personally upon request, carefully crafting cases with seashell patterns for the family of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who died in the shooting.

“Seashells — that meant something to their family,” she said, softly.

The pillowcases are just one small reminder that the world cares about one of its communities still in pain, she said.

“It’s just so sad; it kind of lingers in the air here,” Ms. Frazer said. “It’s in everybody’s minds.”

Contact Roberta Gedert at: rredfern@theblade.com or 419-724-6081.