For most teachers, winter break is a time to relax and unwind, to catch up with friends and family. But one Mesa school teacher decided this year she was going to make a difference.
She packed up her car and headed to Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Faith Leonard says it just didn't feel right to be celebrating the holidays without doing something for the families who had suffered so much in the Newtown tragedy.
She was already planning on visiting her parents in the Midwest for Christmas, and decided to take a bit of a detour. We spoke to her over the phone.
Leonard's goal was to bring some smiles and sunshine from Arizona to Connecticut.
"It started as a really small idea. I had heard the phrase, don't get sad get busy, so I got busy and I got on the phone making some contacts out there," says Leonard.
What happened there hit close to home for Faith Leonard. She teaches elementary school in the Mesa School District.
The pain that the Newtown community has suffered is hard to even imagine. So instead of spending Christmas with her own family, she chose to spend it with families there.
"They were amazed and very appreciative. It's a very close knit community, immediately I was welcomed with open arms," she says.
Leonard brought with her tons of donations from here in the valley, hundreds of cookies, and stuffed animals.
She says she quickly became known as the candy cane lady and the cookie lady. The kids loved seeing on a map how far she'd driven just to give them hugs.
"The fact of the matter is that Newtown has given me the best Christmas gift by them just allowing me to help."
She volunteered at the food pantry, colored with school children, attended Christmas Eve services, and even met some of the mothers of the young victims.
Leonard says that she learned a big lesson, despite the evil in this world.
"Through this experience I saw there's so much more good… I just know whether I'm in Newtown, Connecticut, or Bush Elementary School or my parents in Winfield, Iowa, I just want to be part of the good."
Leonard says the community was just so welcoming, they even named her an honorary member of Newtown.
By the way, she is in the process of driving home right now. Leonard has made a couple stops to visit family -- so by the time she's back in Arizona, she'll have been through 18 states and have spent about 75 hours in her car.
KDFW FOX 4
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