BLUEFIELD — ELDON, Iowa — Beth Howard – the Pie Lady from Iowa – learned on her second trip to Newtown, Conn., how small the world can be.
A book club in the quaint New England town had earlier read “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” -- Howard's bittersweet experience that dealt with the sudden loss of a loved one and how she turned to making pie to help fill a void in her life.
In an odd twist, she was once again turning her special way of assisting others -- as well as herself -- into action in a community where outside help was needed.
Overwhelmed with what she had seen and felt on her first trip to there, she returned earlier this month to reach out again -- this time mostly to children.
It was another very powerful experience. Her initial visit came at a “very, very dark time,” she said. “As we were handing out the pies, people were on their way to funerals,” she recalled.
On her return she focused her "pie making" mission on children. The goal was to help the children, many just old enough to know how to tie their shoes, think about a happier day. It was obvious, though, there were some who were still visibly grieving, she said.
In one class, she remembered a father and his son working side by side. The young boy 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 taught two pie classes every day for a week at churches and preschools.
“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.”
At a reception back in Iowa for Howard, 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.”
Howard said the Newtown community is finding ways to handle the tragedy and deal with the grief.
“They have a strong spirit,” Howard said. “They’ve taken their grief and channeled it into action. They’re doing something constructive with their grief.”
Howard’s own battle with the loss of her 43-year-old husband helped her connect with those still reeling from dispair in Newtown.
“You’ll never get over it,” she said. “And you can’t let people push you through it.”
Details for this story were provided by Chelsea Davis, a reporter for The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier.