Since she first began taking her son to the park when he was born three years ago, Jenn Schulte has been adamant about getting the alleyway cleaned.
Until last week it was blocked by a locked fence.
“I’ve seen needles there, used condoms, and it’s just disgusting because this is where our kids are playing,” Shulte said. “I’m happy to see that something is finally being done.”
She and several other concerned parents at the park have been working together to clean up the alley with Friends of Sean's Place, an active Facebook group started to raise awareness on local issues in the neighborhood.
“We signed a petition about a year ago, and it has been very, very slow that things are starting to happen,” Schulte said, pushing her son’s stroller past the park on 38th Street. “We don’t have much here in Astoria, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask that our playground is a safe place to play.”
Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. brought his entire office, Department of Sanitation, and Department of Transportation to the playground last week to get the ball rolling on the cleanup project.
“We found out about this over the summer, when Friends of Sean’s Place approached us,” Vallone said. “If we didn’t do it now, we were going to have to wait until the spring.”
He explained that the cleanup effort was actually put together pretty quickly in comparison to what it could have been, taking into account some of the recent setbacks, like Hurricane Sandy.
“The main thing is getting the agencies involved and allowing us to get back here and cooperate with us," he explained.
Jonathan Chung, Vallone’s chief of staff, was there with the rest of the councilman’s office helping pick up everything from trash bags full of Gatorade bottles to large sheets of rusted fencing.
“For a while it was really inaccessible until they put this gate up,” Chung said, pointing to the newly installed fence at the entrance of the alleyway. “You had different folks owning different pieces of it, and no one wanted to get back there or could get back there. It’s just 20 years, or however long it’s been, of build up.”
Monet Quitlog has lived in the area for a little over two years, and brings her child to the park every morning, making sure to steer clear of the fence behind the basketball courts.
This morning she was surprised as she looked over, taking notice of Vallone and his staff picking through the garbage, filling up trash bags and inconspicuously shuffling them out of sight and down the alley.
“I never thought it’d be cleaned up so soon,” Quitlog said. “This is everybody’s park here in this neighborhood.”