The Ottumwa Courier

March 18, 2013

Pie Lady returns from Newtown with many stories of healing

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

ELDON — Eldon’s Pie Lady returned from her second mission to “ease the grief” in Newtown, Conn. with a full heart and a welcome home reception — complete with pie.

Beth Howard, known around the area as the “Pie Lady,” made a second journey to Newtown, Conn. last week in order to help “ease the grief” from the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December which left 20 children and six staff dead.

Eldon community members welcomed Howard home Sunday afternoon at a reception at the KD Center.

Her mission, “From Our Town to Newtown,” began on Dec. 15, the day after the Sandy Hook shootings. Howard packed up her RV with pie supplies and began the 18-hour drive to Flanders, N.J., where she met up with an entire neighborhood of volunteers who whipped up 200 pies for the cause.

She spent the week after distributing slices of pie to the community and teaching classes.

“It was a way to show some comfort and help them through their grief,” Howard said.

Howard knows grief. Her husband died unexpectedly three years ago, leading her to write a book detailing her battle dealing with his death and how making pie helps heal the heart.

“By helping others it makes you feel better,” she said. “I was there [in Newtown] for four or five days. I got a lot of hugs, and I gave a lot of hugs.”

The community was going through a “very, very dark time,” she said.

“As we were handing out the pies, people were on their way to funerals,” she said.

Donna Bowden, of Eldon, said anything that helps people get their mind off of the pain they’re experiencing, even for an hour or two, is a good thing.

“It’s awesome to think that someone halfway across the nation is thinking about you,” Bowden said.

Howard’s second trip from March 3-9 was planned around a book club in Newtown which had, ironically, been reading Howard’s book before the Sandy Hook tragedy ever occurred.

On this trip, Howard taught two pie classes every day for an entire week at churches and preschools, again receiving donations from local stores of apples, butter and other ingredients.

“It was a really powerful experience,” she said. “The one most profound thing for me was teaching the preschoolers. You think, is it really going to influence these kids? They don’t understand grief. But I was so wrong about that.”

The joy the children felt and pride in themselves for accomplishing this culinary feat made a “ripple effect” throughout the community, she said. Parents began sending her letters and emails, thanking her for her efforts.

Eldon Christian Church Pastor Dave Bowden said it’s comforting when people from outside the community come in to help those grieving express themselves.

“Whether through pies or just talking, it helps them to not feel so alone,” he said. “In my past experience, the worst grief is over the loss of an innocent child.”

Priscilla Coffman said Howard’s mission gave the Newtown community an activity “that lifts everybody up.”

“It’s past being able to change what happened, but this does help,” Coffman said.

Howard said last week there were some in her classes who were visibly grieving.

In one class, she taught a father and his son, who had lost his best friend in the shootings.

“The warmth, the coziness, the touching ... it’s a tactile experience,” she said. “The children were so excited to take their pies home and share them with someone.”

Howard said she was surprised at how well the Newtown community was handling the tragedy when she first arrived in December.

“They have a strong spirit,” she said. “They’ve taken their grief and channeled it into action. They’re doing something constructive with their grief.”

Howard’s own battle with grief helped connect her to those still reeling from the shootings.

“You’ll never get over it,” she said. “And you can’t let people push you through it.”