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Faith Leonard, Arizona Teacher, Drives To Newtown To Spread Holiday Cheer

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Faith Leonard teaches elementary school in Arizona's Mesa Public Schools, but she's spending her winter break in Newtown to help bring holiday spirit to the grief-stricken Connecticut community.

"It started as a really small idea," Leonard told Fox 10 Phoenix. "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."

That small idea grew into a very big project, as Leonard packed her car with hundreds of cookies, stuffed animals and donations -- and drove all the way to Connecticut.

"I guess my thought was if I could be here helping out maybe one person would be able to spend more time with their family or grieve in the way they needed to," Leonard told the Associated Press. "I know they've been inundated with support and that's great, but it's always nice to have a present to open on Christmas day."

Leonard quickly became known in Newtown as the candy cane and cookie lady. She told Fox 10 Phoenix that residents showed immense appreciation, welcoming her with open arms and even naming her an honorary community member.

"Through this experience I saw there's so much more good," she said. "I just know whether I'm in Newtown, Connecticut, or Bush Elementary School [in Mesa] or my parents in Winfield, Iowa, I just want to be part of the good."

People around the world have been mourning the tragedy in Newtown in the weeks since a gunman tore through Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 26 people, including 20 children. Donations have poured into the town, but in such a volume that city officials had to ask well-wishers to stop sending gifts.

City leaders say they will detail the best ways to help once the "warehouses full of items" are processed.

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