NISKAYUNA — With the COVID-19 pandemic making the informal ways schools traditionally help students in need more difficult, a Niskayuna school-town partnership has set up a virtual space when families can ask for what they need, and be matched with someone who has an item to donate.
NiskyAttic was launched on Facebook just before Thanksgiving, and has already matched up requests and donors for a couple of electronic items — but it can be used for winter clothing and anything else families need, said Jessica Brennan, a social worker at Rosendale Elementary School and attic organizer.
“It’s a virtual pantry. Because of COVID, we had to be creative, we can’t really store things, so we thought we would do it virtually,” Brennan said.
Each school in the Niskayuna district has always sought to informally help students within its community who might need winter gear or other help, a system that has sometimes ended up with teachers dipping into their own pockets to help a child. Brennan said NiskyAttic’s Facebook page opens what had been informal requests to the entire community.
“Kids might need something, and other people might have something they need just lying around,” she said.
When a donor is identified, items can be brought to one of the schools, or pickup can be arranged. At the school, it is stored in a marked bin for 72 hours as a COVID safety precaution, and then delivered to the child who needs it, Brennan said.
Brennan, who is founder of the Nisky Now weekend nutrition backpack program for students, said that despite Niskayuna’s affluence, about 14 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and new families are constantly being added as some experience layoffs, move, or experience economic disruptions.
Town Councilwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said the town has a role to play because the schools aren’t open to the public, and now the Town Hall and library are also closed to the public because of COVID concerns. Pickup can be arranged, she said.
“This is like an old fashioned swap, right?” said McGraw, who is also a Nisky Now volunteer. “It’s needed now more than ever.”
Brennan and high school counselor Nancy Bushee are organizing the effort at the high school level.
The Nisky Attic Facebook page is at www.facebook.com/theniskyattic. People can list a need there, and others can either meet that need or say what they have to donate.
“Our goal is that other districts will copy this, now that we have done at the legwork,” Brennan said.
The Niskayuna Community Foundation has funded printing of some stickers and magnets to promote the program, but otherwise there is no significant cost, Brennan said.
“Between this program and Niskayuna Now, we think we’re really helping people out,” Brennan said.
Correction: Niskayuna town employees are not directly involved in collections for the NiskyAttic program, as stated in a story on Saturday.