Astorians make environmentalism fashionable

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Scouring the tables full of merchandise, Astoria resident David Hasil scored a plain gray T−shirt and a slightly funky Yankees baseball cap, which he surmised would clean up nicely. The cost? A bag of clothes that he and his mother, Liz, brought, containing jackets, sweatshirts, men’s T−shirts and books that they no longer wanted.

Such trades could be made at the second annual Swap−O−Rama clothing swap and book drive held March 21 at the A.R.R.O.W. Community Center in Astoria and sponsored by Triple R Events, the Astoria Book Club and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. In exchange for donating a bag of clothing, swappers had their pick of the available items donated by others.

“I think it’s wonderful that instead of disposing of things, you can trade them,” said Hasil, 31, adding that the free clothing exchange is not only good for the environment, but also fosters a sense of camaraderie in the neighborhood.

The Hasils were among the nearly 200 attendees at the spring clothing swap and book drive to benefit Hour Children and the Queens Library, a 50 percent increase in the number of participants who attended the November 2008 swap. Both were organized by Triple R Events, an Astoria−based environmental group founded by Astoria residents Lynne Serpe and Robyn Sklar Nelson.

“Part of the fun is looking for that hidden treasure,” said Serpe, a longtime Green Party activist and proponent of green living.

Many, like Elise Karras, 57, a social worker and Astoria resident, and her daughters Nicole, 16, and Ellie, 13, were repeat customers. The trio had been looking forward to the swap for months after attending the November event and taking home two beautiful Ralph Lauren summer dresses and a purse by the same designer, said Elise.

The swap provided not only the opportunity to save money, a definite bonus with two teenage daughters in tow, but also the opportunity to mix with like−minded individuals doing their share to preserve the environment, she added.

It “makes you think about things you can do in the community — instead of having people over for coffee, maybe doing a potluck,” she said.

Patrons gravitated to the five tables teeming with women’s, men’s and children’s clothing and accessories, many holding up their finds to gauge feedback on the merchandise. At the rear of the community center, a representative from the Queens Library was on hand to dole out library cards and collect signatures in support of the cash−strapped library, which Serpe calls the “ultimate in reuse.”

For many swap−o−philes, the appeal of the exchange went beyond merely pocketing free clothing and books. For self−described “swap junkie” Frances Wood, 24, a resident of Red Hook and an administrator for a youth shelter, the event reinforced her commitment to sustainability and frugality in light of the current recession.

“I think it’s a good way to promote recycling and reusing,” she said. “It’s an interesting place where people are getting creative in the midst of economic nastiness.”

Event co−organizer and green advocate Robyn Sklar Nelson described the swap as a free way to rejuvenate one’s closet.

“People can’t go out and buy a sweater every week, or new pants every month,” she said. “This is a great way to get new−to−you apparel. It’s also fun. You can go with your girlfriends, or boyfriends, and make new friends.”

The nearly 2,000 books and 20 bags and boxes of clothing and shoes that went unclaimed following the swap were donated to the Queens Library and Hour Children, a Long Island City−based nonprofit that supports incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers and provides a nurturing environment for their children.

Next up for the ladies of Triple R Events is the second annual Queens is Green fashion show, scheduled for 6−8 p.m. April 18 at Green Space Dance Studios in Long Island City. For more on the group, visit 3r−

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