ELDON, Iowa —
A gut reaction to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., has turned into a mission of healing.
Beth Howard, known as the “Pie Lady,” was one of the many shaken by the murders of 26 children and adults at their elementary school.
On a whim, Howard posted on Facebook: “Overwhelmed and heartbroken by (Friday's) tragedy, I feel like packing up my pie supplies into my RV and driving to Connecticut. If making pie and sharing it with the citizens of Newtown would help ease their pain I would load up a hundred cases of apples and start driving right now.”
That single post turned into an outpouring of support and encouragement. Quickly, several people commented that they would love to donate money for gas and pie supplies. Less than two hours later, $1,000 had been donated and by the time she left her southeast Iowa town Saturday morning, the total had risen to more than $3,000. She said any extra money she receives will be donated to Newtown for grief counseling.
“I felt so helpless, like so many people did [Friday],” Howard said. “I have the time, the resources, an RV and pie-making skills. I know from experience how helpful it is. I wrote a whole book about how pie heals grief. If anybody knows, it’s me.”
This set in motion a plan to drive her RV, dubbed “The Beast,” to pick up Mike Nahra, a friend in Chicago, so they could trade driving duties throughout the nearly 18-hour trip to Flanders, N.J. There they will meet up with Howard’s good friend, Janice Molinari.
After Howard’s husband, Marcus Iken, died unexpectedly at the age of 43 three years ago, she wrote “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” which details her battle dealing with Iken’s death, the unexpected road trip she took across the country, the documentary that ensued and how she eventually found her way back to Iowa.
Molinari organized seven kitchens in her neighborhood for the “bake-a-thon” Sunday and Monday. The group will drive to Newtown on Tuesday and begin distributing the pies. Howard also hopes to reach out to schools and teach pie-baking classes as she has done with students at Ottumwa (Iowa) High School.
“I want to get the kids involved and give the community something else to focus on,” she said.
Karen Wojtowicz, a teacher and parent in Newtown, reached out to Howard.
“What you are doing is so wonderful. ... I’m spreading the word about you in Newtown. Just trying to process all of this emotion and helping my 11-year-old through it. Bless you.”
When Molinari spoke to a reporter Saturday afternoon, she had just returned from Sam’s Club where she picked up 200 pounds of apples, 150 pounds of flour and 150 pounds of sugar. The Costco in Bridgetown, Conn. even donated flour, sugar, butter and shortening for the group.
As the baking began on Sunday, volunteers decided to add a personal touch to each pie: the initials of the 26 who died.
One of Molinari’s neighbors, a pastry chef, donated all of the boxes the bakers will need to box up the pies to take to Newtown.
And after getting involved, Molinari sent out feelers in Newtown and found out she knows three people who have family or friends there, who will give the group a place to park the RV and set up their pie stand during their week in the community.
Everyone knows grief in some way, Molinari said. Hopefully, the Newtown community will see that they can survive this tragedy, too.
“I just think for me, it touches the human spirit and that’s what this is all about,” Molinari said. “When you go offer someone a slice of pie, you think how will that help them heal? But in the littlest way, it shows someone loves you, someone is thinking of you and it can help you start to heal.”
Chelsea Davis is a reporter for The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier.