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Michele Marchetti: State College Moms Outfit Newtown Students with Superhero Capes

by on February 13, 2013 6:23 AM

Dawn Rivera listened as the caller told her about “Capes for Kids,” an effort to purchase superhero capes for every elementary school student in Newtown, Conn. The idea was to present the superheroes with capes on their first day back to school.

The caller, a mom whose kids went to high school in Newtown, found Rivera’s business, SewPlainJane.com, through a quick Google search and wanted 400 capes overnighted the next day.

For Rivera, saying yes was the easy part. Finishing 400 capes in less than 12 hours with three little kids and a husband in Germany on business proved to be the real challenge.

Rivera had only just moved to State College and didn’t know many people, let alone anyone else with a sewing machine. That afternoon when she picked up her kids at school, she related her conversation to a few parents. She already had enough capes from her inventory, but needed to sew a star on the back of each cape before mailing them.

“Anyone know how to sew?” she asked.

They all said no.

A few hours later, her friend called: “I have four people who want to help.”

One woman knocked on her door that evening with several dozen completed capes in hand.

“If you have more I’ll take them,” she told Rivera, matter of factly. “I hope it isn’t too late.”

Another woman, a mother of four from Pine Grove Mills, cleared her evening plans, and took 100 capes, enlisting the help of her husband.

As Rivera transformed her own living room into a factory and put her kids to work die cutting the stars, she implored them to look at their efforts not as a chore, but as an opportunity.

“Not many people get a chance to do something so directly,” she told her children. “The kids will be wearing those capes on their little bodies. You can’t get anymore direct than that.”

At one point in the evening, Rivera’s contact from Newtown called back, upping the order to 500. She wanted capes for the teachers, too. Once again, Rivera didn’t hesitate.

Around 4 a.m. she finished, and later that same day she shipped 500 capes to the caller in Newtown.

When I heard the story about the newcomer to State College who pulled an all-nighter to help the Sandy Hook kids, I immediately set out to find her. Like every parent since the shooting, I’ve struggled with dropping my kids off each morning, and with the indelible image of the Sandy Hook kids walking out of their school, heads down, arms linked.

Kids in superhero capes? Now there’s an image I’d prefer to live with instead.

According to a press release Rivera shared with me, the project started with another Newtown mom with kids in the high school. While discussing the tragedy with her children, her son compared the Sandy Hook students to superheroes. That gave her daughter the idea of making the capes.

Circumstance dictated that Rivera got the call that December afternoon, and anyone, she says, would have helped, if given the opportunity. After all, when something horrible like this happens, the instinct is to do something, anything, to tip the balance in favor of humanity. But best intentions don’t always add up to meaningful actions.

In this case, they did. And the strangers in her new hometown who dropped everything to help humbled Rivera.

“It speaks to what this community is like,” she said.

Ultimately, more than 3,000 superhero capes, including the 500 from SewPlainJane.com, were delivered for the town’s elementary schools and intermediate school.

The image on the Capes for Kids Facebook page makes me think of my son, who went through his own superhero phase. We once draped blankets and oversize T-shirts over his shoulders so he could conquer whatever villain he created.

The kids in Newtown will be battling real demons for the rest of their lives. It’s a small source of comfort to know that — thanks in part to some goodwill in our own community — they know how we feel about their bravery.

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Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of StateCollege.com. Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMStateCollege or contact her at mitchmarchetti@gmail.com
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