Crowd answers call for Middle Village community cleanup

Richie Polgar saws away at branches coming over the fence at the Middle Village cleanup. Photo by Phil Corso
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Middle Village activist Richie Polgar rolled up to the intersection of 73rd Place and 69th Avenue in Middle Village on his bike before anyone else had arrived, and as other volunteers started to appear, he threw on a pair of working gloves and got right to work.

“I’m very civic-minded,” Polgar said. “I am always trying to help make the neighborhood look good.”

The day after he had already worked to help clean up areas in Howard Beach, Polgar joined with several other Middle Village natives in a community cleanup.

“I always bring a bag with me wherever I go,” Polgar said. “Cleaning up isn’t just a one-day thing.”

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano suited up, ready with literature on how to avoid poison ivy as volunteers gathered to clean the area. Building on a similar clean-up effort last year, Giordano said it had to be done to make sure Middle Village was maintained properly.

Young and old, residents patrolled the grassy side street of 73rd Place, from 68th to 70th avenues, cutting weeds and collecting debris by hand.

The road along the eastern side of Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery had no sidewalk and was riddled with brush and litter before the cleanup began.

And though the property used to be more regularly maintained by volunteers, including Dan Austin, president of the cemetery, a drop in support led to a lag in the area’s upkeeping.

“The cemetery used to do this as a courtesy when we had the manpower,” Austin said. “We are community people, but now we are the only guys out there, usually.”

But they did not work alone Saturday, as 13-year-old Thomas Crowley and 12-year-old Peter Ilse suited up and picked up leaves with their hands.

Meanwhile, some longtime Middle Village natives passed through the cleanup and questioned why the residents and volunteers were left with the burden of keeping the city-owned area maintained.

Nearly 40-year resident Jerry DeStefano said the area had become more dilapidated since the cemetery lost nearly half its men to maintain the area. If the property does not belong to the residents, DeStefano said, then they should not have to organize community cleanups to make sure the area is clean and safe.

“It is a disgrace,” DeStefano said. “Why should we suffer like this? The city needs to respect the homeowners on this side of Metropolitan Avenue and show us that we belong to the community.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 12:00 am, August 18, 2012
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