Just before leaving Newtown, Conn., after spending Christmas serving the community, Faith Leonard spotted a park at the base of a local cemetery and stopped to make 26 snow angels on the ground.

“Then I called it a trip,” said Leonard, whose husband, Dave, teaches in Ahwatukee at Kyrene de las Lomas Elementary. “It was for those students and teachers, and it became something more for me.”

Leonard, a teacher at Bush Elementary in Mesa, recently visited the small town in Connecticut over Christmas to serve to a community trying to “find a new normal” after the Dec. 14 shooting claimed the lives of 27 students and adults, including gunman Adam Lanza.

Dave said he and his wife were going to make a trip to Iowa and Minnesota to see family for the holidays anyway, and Leonard felt compelled to drive a few states further to visit Newtown.

“This wasn’t just about me, though, it’s about our community coming to their community,” she added.

Loading up their SUV on Friday, Dec. 21, Leonard took three boxes of school supplies, 20 boxes of candy canes, 50 stuffed animals, gift baskets, and money donations from Kyrene School District teachers to the people of Newtown.

“Generally, people were like ‘Wow, you drove all the way across the United States,’” Leonard said. “I’m sure some thought I was crazy, but no one treated me like it. It’s a close-knit community and they care about people who care about them.”

For about four days, Leonard worked with community centers organizing donations, talking to residents, attending Christmas services, and handing out cookies. She met and spoke with several parents who lost children in the shooting.

“I still haven’t found words to process some of the components of this trip,” said Leonard, as she was driving through Indiana. “Some of it just feels too scared to talk about.”

Leonard became known as “the candy-cane lady” around Newtown, and said most of the town’s holiday traditions still carried on as usual, leaving her “in awe” of the town’s strength as they too try to process how to move forward.

Sandy Hook Elementary, according to Leonard, was still set up as a crime scene, and a handful of roads were closed around town.

“But there was an amazing hope and faith in this community,” Leonard added. “I know I’ll be back soon.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or dmartinez@ahwatukee.com. Follow on Twitter: @_dianamartinez.

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