By Katharine Morgan Contributing Writer
---- — “My Neighbor’s Closet” is open again this weekend.
The annual event which helps provide clothing and supplies for Cooperstown families in need will take place Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon in the high school cafeteria.
Sponsored by the Cooperstown Angel Network, and open to students and their families in the Cooperstown School District, the annual project is designated to help struggling families in the area by creating an opportunity for people with extra essential items to easily and anonymously pass them along.
For weeks, The Angel Network, headed up by Stephanie Nelen, president, and Alyssa McGoldrick, liason between school and community, has been receiving donations of new and gently used clothing, storing the bags in a helpful friend’s garage in town.
“Basically, we need fall and winter clothing, along with shoes, boots and coats for school-aged children K - 12. Generally the sizes are 5/6 all the way up to adult,” McGoldrick said while standing in front of the garage, while high-school volunteers worked diligently, sorting the items into genders and sizes.
“Helpful, too,” she adds, “are snow pants. We work getting needed clothing to students throughout the year, but by the time really cold weather gets here, snow pants are harder to find.”
McGoldrick also said that socks and underwear are always useful, but, of course, need to be donated new.
The Cooperstown Angel Network was started about nine years ago in typical grass roots fashion.
“One of my friends was volunteering, helping a teacher out in a kindergarten class, when it became apparent, there was a birthday for one of the children, but none of the usual parent-provided cupcakes. The sad student revealed her mother didn’t have the means to bring them in,” said Noelle Hage, one of the original founders of the organization, who no longer lives in Cooperstown, but was at the sorting site nonetheless, volunteering. “My friend raced home, baked some cupcakes, and took them back to the school in time to celebrate.”
According to Hage, her friend initiated a discussion with the teacher, expressing her concern. “The decision was made amongst a group of us, as parents, that there should be some sort of program, where school affiliates could spot the specific needs of certain students and get the requests out to us”, Hage said.
Their thought was, a pair of sneakers needed, or winter coat, or toiletries even, could be supplied from within the community of Cooperstown.
Collectively, the school staff and the original organizers decided that paramount to this undertaking was the confidentiality of the children involved. From there, a system evolved. Families aware of the organization could contact the appropriate school counselors/teachers with their specific needs. In addition, teachers in the classroom could assess a need, (no warm coat, when cold weather arrives, for example ). Then, according to Hage, an appointed school staff member could contact the Network’s community liason with the child’s gender, size, and need. No names are used.
Once this sequence of operation was established, Hage immediately sent out an email to all the parents included in the Cooperstown School District. Upon supplying an email address they could voluntarily be on the list. The Network started with an email list of around 30 participants and has grown to over 400. The recipients have increased from 15 families to 45 plus and, in this economic environment of lay-offs and shrinking income, they continue to grow.
With the system they coordinated all set up, the last part was simple. Once the Angel Network liason was contacted with a request, she, (Hage, initially, now, McGoldrick) could post it to their on-line community. Volunteers could proceed to donate the necessary item. If the Angel Network received more than one, they stored it, until a similar request came along. Periodically, the Angel Network takes surplus to Head Start programs in need, and other charitable organizations. Lately, they try to store supplies for unseen tragedies, such as fires, loss of jobs, and deaths.
As word of mouth, either literally or online, spread, the group increased their scope. In addition to their school initiated requests for clothes and relatively small items, they began, through fundraising events and cash donations, to provide scholarship assistance, gas cards, even partial help with mortgages. Crucial to the endeavor has been the Cooperstown community’s help.
“Various businesses, including Ommegang Brewery, The Otesaga Hotel, and the Clark Sports Center, as well as organizations and clubs like the Lions Club, etc... have been extremely generous and helpful for our cause,” McGoldrick said.
Hage said the village has been supportive as well, “We have a true network of people to help, including teenagers, who can get points towards community service working for our cause,” she said.
Both women are quick to note any teenager/volunteer help is limited to tasks that can be performed without breaking any participating family member’s anonymity.
This year the Network has held a Masquerade Ball, as well as hosted their annual Tot Trot, in addition to the upcoming My Neighbor’s Closet. Christmas plans include gift baskets for approximately 40 plus families, as well as sponsorships of families in need. Details will be posted in upcoming weeks.
“We are so fortunate to have a community that works together to make the Angel Network possible,” Nelen said. “Everyone in this community has been so giving and responded so positively to the Angel Network. I feel blessed to live in this community!”
For information regarding My Neighbor’s Closet/The Angels Network go to their Facebook page.