NEWTOWN, Conn. — Chris Kelsey is the tax assessor in Newtown, but for the better part of three weeks, his job has been setting up and organizing a warehouse to hold the toys, school supplies, and other gifts donated after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary school.
Despite the town’s pleas to stop sending gifts, Kelsey said, trucks have been arriving daily with tokens of support from across the world, some for the families of those killed, others for the children of Sandy Hook, still others for the town.
‘‘A lot of the town’s normal business is still on pause,’’ he said. ‘‘I have a couple of people still doing assessor’s business, and then if they can, open mail a couple hours too. We’re all kind of doing what we can to get this done.’’
A task force has been set up to coordinate the more than 800 volunteers who have been staffing the warehouse and working to sort the gifts, open mail, and answer the thousands of e-mails and phone calls offering assistance.
The volunteers have begun making a dent in the pile of tens of thousands of teddy bears that stretched to the warehouse ceiling. By last week, they had sorted 30,000 of them into small, medium, and large sizes, catalogued them and put them in boxes.
They are also separating and boxing piles of crayons, pencils, books, and much more.
‘‘It’s a ton of stuff, and we have an operation just as big for mail as well,’’ Kelsey said.
There are also 26 large moving boxes in the warehouse, each labeled with a victim’s name. When a gift comes in specifically addressed to those families, it goes in those boxes. The families have been coming in periodically to empty them.
A toy giveaway was held for all Newtown children before Christmas and some of the remaining toys and stuffed animals have been taken to children’s hospitals.
The rest will be stored until the town decides where they should go, Kelsey said. He said letters have been sent to each of the victim’s families asking for their input.
His cellphone is filled with e-mails from charities across the country.
‘‘Everybody has a hand out,’’ he said. ‘‘We’re just beginning that process now. The charities suggested by the families will get the top priority.’’
The work organizing the warehouse is being done by volunteers from Adventist Community Services, a faith-based group that has done similar work after hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The group was paired with Kelsey after contacting the town’s volunteer task force. Kevin and Robin Fitzgerald started the group last year to organize neighborhood cleanups following two storms that brought down trees all over town.
‘Our mission here is to ease the burden on the town resources, matching people who feel the need to do something with a task that needed to be done.’
‘‘We referred to it as friends with chainsaws,’’ Robin Fitzgerald said.
Immediately after the school massacre, which left 26 people dead, people called the Fitzgeralds looking for a way to help in the grief-stricken town. Local churches and businesses got similar calls.
After meeting with town officials, the Red Cross, and other stakeholders, the Fitzgeralds were put in charge of coordinating the volunteer effort.
They started working in their living room with a couple of cellphones and their own laptop computers. Local businessman Peter D’Amico gave them office space. Companies donated computers, Wi-Fi, phones and other equipment and set up a call center. The Newtown Volunteer Task Force now has a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a toll-free telephone number.
‘‘Our mission here is to ease the burden on the town resources, matching people who feel the need to do something with a task that needed to be done,’’ Kevin Fitzgerald said.
The town originally expected it would take the task force about two weeks to complete its work. The Fitzgeralds said the task force now expects to be working for about three months, possibly longer.
‘‘What we’re telling people on the phone now is that if you are holding a fund-raiser in your local community, we appreciate it, but direct those resources to your local community. That’s what the families want,’’ Robin Fitzgerald said.