By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Nathan Curto is heir to a very important piece of Niskayuna heritage: the annual Niska-Day food drive. He doesn’t know it yet, though, because he’s only 18 months old.
“This is his third Niska-Day,” said Debra Gorgos, Nathan’s mother. “I marched pregnant two years ago.” Last year, Gorgos carried Nathan through the parade in a baby sling; this year, he watched the festivities from a his stroller.
“He doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll be running it in ten years,” she said.
Dedication to Niska-Day, and especially its food drive, is hereditary in the Gorgos family. Nancy Gorgos, Debra’s mom and Nathan’s grandmother, started the food drive two decades ago. When she passed away in June of 2005 at the age of 59, Debra took on the responsibility with pride
“I would do it anyway, but the fact that it’s in her name really means a lot to me,” she said. “My mom was always about, ‘What else can we do to give back?’” Gorgos has been involved in Niska-Day festivities since she was 6 years old.
As a child, Gorgos marched in the parade as a majorette; she then grew up to become a part of the Niska-Day Committee and, of course, head of the food drive, like her mother. Gorgos handles publicity for the drive and recruits volunteers, many of whom are friends, to push grocery carts at the end of the Niska-Day parade so bystanders can hand in their donations.
“We usually have a megaphone walking up ahead saying, ‘Go inside and get a donation,’ but I forgot it this year because I have a one-year-old and I have no mind,” Gorgos joked.
Despite that slight omission, donations completely filled the back of the silver pickup truck donated by Bast Hatfield Construction, which was driven through the parade with a sign bearing Nancy Gorgos’ name.
All the contributions were delivered to the St. Anthony Convent on Van Vranken Avenue following Niska-Day 33 festivities. Sister Maria Rosa Querini, Pastoral Associate at St. Anthony’s church, said the donations wouldn’t wait long at the convent. Although not technically a food pantry, Querini said the sisters often distribute food to the community.
“People call almost every week for food,” said Querini. “Usually the food we have comes from the people from the parish, and then some good people bring some extra food during the year.”
Debra’s father, Jim Gorgos, said the day held special meaning for him. “It’s heartwarming to have Debra carry on her Mom’s legacy,” he said in an email. “Of course, it’s a happy and sad day for both of us, as there are so many wonderful memories. Nancy was involved with Niska-Day from day one and probably filled every position over 20-plus years, including co-chair,” he said.
Emily Barrett, a college friend of Debra’s, traveled to Niskayuna from her home in Maryland to push a cart at the end of the Niska-Day parade, gathering food donations in Nancy’s memory.
“Nancy Gorgos was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known,” Barrett said. “She always put other people first. She was just this big heart that could make anything happen.”
“She was like another mom in my life,” Barrett said. “I’m so glad I could talk about Nancy. I want people to know who she is.
“I wish her grandson could’ve met her,” she said. “But we’ll just keep talking about her and make sure he knows what a special grandma he had.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article identified the company that donated the truck as Bast Hatfield Engineering. It is Bast Hatfield Construction.