As a nation, our hearts ached in December when news spread of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. We cried; we shook our heads in despair and wonder; we hugged our own children that much harder; and we all searched—somewhat fruitlessly—for what we could do to “fix” this previously inconceivable happening.

I cried again when I read about Newtown officials having to ask for fewer donations (because the national response was overwhelming) and public safety officers from around Connecticut volunteering to spend Christmas in Newtown so that Newtown officers and firemen could spend the day at home with their grief-stricken and traumatized families. I watched the president speak at the memorial service. It was like an entire country circling those children and those families and that community in a concerted effort to heal.

Nothing can reverse the tragedy of that day, but I’m positive that the outpouring of support and the protective circle that formed within minutes of the news breaking has made a huge difference for the families of Newtown and for Sandy Hook Elementary.

And it struck me that the day-to-day work of so many parent groups—creating community, building parent involvement, supporting teachers—is the foundation for exactly that kind of outreach in every community.

God willing, we’ll never see another Newtown. But schools will certainly lose teachers and students to accidents or illness, and I’m thankful that those schools will have active PTOs and PTAs already formed and ready to close the circle again.

As I write, Sandy Hook students are back at school in a new building surrounded by tens of thousands of paper snowflakes that were collected by the Connecticut state PTA. While those children work to find some normalcy and healing, they know they are loved and supported by so many.

I remember, too, a trip I made to Loveland, Ohio, several years back to meet one of our Parent Group of the Year honorees from Symmes Elementary. Their town had been struck by a devastating tornado that left more than 50 school families homeless. Within hours, the PTO became the organizing force behind relief efforts and outreach.

It’s a pattern I’ve seen repeated every year since then—when a beloved principal passes away, when a school family deals with an illness or accident, even fires and hurricanes. It’s the existing organizations, which sometimes are associated with seemingly mundane functions (yes, that silly little spaghetti supper did play a role in hurricane relief or tornado relief or letting a family know they’re not alone) that wind up being the heart and the heartbeat of a response to tragedy.

The author Harvey Mackay talks of digging your well before you’re thirsty, and that’s exactly how I think of the role of PTO and PTA groups when it comes to dealing with school tragedies. Those connections you create between parents and around the kids, that supportive atmosphere that you build through many years of good work, the communication channels you’ve developed both formally and informally—those are deposits that you’re able to withdraw when your school and/or your school’s children need it most.

My wish for you is that your group never has to tap into that reserve you’re building. But if your school is ever faced with tough times of its own, I know your parent group will be there first, ready to reach out and help. Along with so many other core functions, it’s exactly what you’re built for.