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Clean-up drive planned for Rego Park

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Two Rego Park residents are planning on approaching national and citywide chain businesses in their neighborhood to try to raise money to hire a service such as the Doe Fund to clean the streets.

David Schantz and Steve Goldberg, both members of Community Board 6 who have lived in Rego Park for more than 20 years, are optimistic that their fund-raising efforts will result in the cleanup of 63rd Drive from Austin Street to 98th Street. The area has become filthy, especially in the afternoons, according to the residents.

Goldberg said there are about 40 national or citywide chains that have stores on 63rd Drive or on Queens Boulevard around 63rd Drive, including Lane Bryant, Radio Shack, Subway, McDonalds, Rite Aid, CVS and Duane Reade. He and Schantz plan on talking with the managers of the local stores, then sending letters to the national or citywide managers and following up with phone calls.

"If every organization we contacted gave $1,000, we'd have enough money for a year of having the Doe Fund work," Goldberg said.

The Doe Fund, a non-profit organization that hires homeless people to clean streets, operated in Rego Park for about a year from the summer of 2001 to July 2002. During that time, Doe Fund workers swept streets and bagged trash along 63rd Drive from Austin Street to Queens Boulevard, and along both sides of Queens Boulevard from 63rd Drive to 64th Road.

According to Jay Parker, the head of the Rego Park Merchants' Association and the owner of Ben's Best deli at 96-40 Queens Blvd., the Doe Fund service cost about $45,000 a year. It was largely funded by former state Sen. Dan Hevesi, who allocated about $39,000 of state money toward the service. The remaining $6,000 was donated by merchants in the area.

When money for the Doe Fund ran out after a year of service, Parker decided not to accept another year of funding from the state because he felt that the community should be able to pay for its own cleanup.

"I could've gotten the funding if I wanted it. It was offered to me, but I said no," Parker said. "There are other things that the money can go to. There are people on public assistance that could use that money. There are firehouses that shouldn't be closed. The Doe Fund was a great program, and it should last forever, but it's not something that the city or state should be paying for."

Parker said his original theory was that if merchants saw the difference the Doe Fund made to the community during the first year it operated in the neighborhood streets, they would be willing to donate enough money toward the service to fund it for a second year.

But Parker was only able to collect about $4,000 toward the second year of Doe Fund service after approaching each of the approximately 120 merchants in the area.

"It was just so underwhelming some of this commitment to the community," Parker said. "If my community doesn't care, why should I care? I'm not pulling the wagon by myself."

Last month Doe Fund workers stopped cleaning streets in downtown Forest Hills after money for the service ran out. The workers cleaned the commercial district encompassed by Austin Street, Ascan Avenue, Queens Boulevard and Yellowstone Boulevard for about 2 1/2 years before funds ran out.

Despite past difficulties with funding, Schantz and Goldberg were hopeful that they could get the Doe Fund workers back in the neighborhood.

"When they were working here, the streets were almost spotless, so we're going to try to get them back," Goldberg said. "We have the names of the firms and I hope this week to start contacting the local outlets."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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