Even amidst the unspeakable tragedy that befell the quiet town of Newtown, Conn., where 26 people—including 20 children—were shot and killed by a mentally-unstable 20-year-old, positive stories can be told.
One of those stories was of writer Beth Howard, who travelled from her Iowa home by RV to bake and serve pies to those still grieving following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
As noted in a Star-Ledger article from Dec. 18,—and many other media outlets—Howard felt compelled to help ease the suffering in her own way, in a similar way after the sudden death of her husband three years ago. Following that, she wrote "Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie."
"As part of her grieving process she packed up the RV her husband left behind and hit the American highways in search of the real healing powers of pie," reads her biography.
But, when Howard turned to Newtown, she needed a relatively close home base. Enter Flanders residents Janice Molinari and Marguerite Smith, co-owners of Ananda Yoga in Morristown, and formerly in Mendham.
"Beth is a friend of a friend I've known for 15 years," said Molinari, also co-owner of the Brisun Productions company, also in Morristown.
When Molinari—who traveled in 2010 with Howard for several weeks to assemble a documentary for "Making Piece—"heard about her friend's plan to take pies to Newtown, she said, "if you do it, I'm in.
"She called me up, and said, 'how are we going to do this,'" Molinari recalled. "'Just start driving and we'll figure it out.'"
Howard arrived at Molinari and Smith's house the Sunday afternoon following the Newtown events. By this time, word had gone out via friends and social media channels, leading to about 40 volunteers peeling about 650 pounds of apples.
"Neighbors were running pies to ovens, double ovens," Molinari said. In total, 250 apple pies were baked in just two days.
"It was bizarre. We had strangers showing up saying they saw it on Facebook," she said. "Everyone wanted to contribute and help. We even had a mother and daughter travel from Massachusetts to help."
On Tuesday, Howard's RV headed to Newtown, along with volunteers, but not much of a solid plan. They would figure it out along the way.
"We made contacts as we went," Molinari said. "A preschool teacher in Newtown said they could get us into the community center. People lined up to help. It was amazing."
Borrowing from their adventure two years ago, volunteers cut slices and put out a simple sign: free pie.
And, the slice of comfort, of distraction from reality, was welcomed by the community. "They smiled while they were eating," Molinari said. "Every once in a while, someone wanted to talk, they wanted us to listen to them. We became this little spot of kindness amidst tragedy."
Molinari begs off a little about the whole thing. "I don't mean to inflate this and make it a pat on the back," she said. What it does highlight, however is simply, "people care. It was very emotional.
"I laugh at the simplicity of it," she said. "Hand someone a slice of pie. What you're really handing them is proof that you actually care, and the world can still be sweet."