By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The 86th Street shopping strip in Bensonhurst got a clean sweep on Monday morning, as more than 30 high school students braved the 90-degree heat to take part in a “Speak Up & Clean Up” campaign organized by local lawmakers and political leaders.
Armed with brooms, dust pans, garbage bags, and gloves donated by the city’s Department of Sanitation the teens spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon picking up litter on 86th Street from 18th to 25th avenues. The cleanup was organized by Assemblyman Bill Colton (D-Gravesend-Bensonhurst), Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) and leaders of the United Progressive Democratic Club.
“Make sure you stay hydrated!” Club President Mark Treyger told the volunteers who gathered at the club’s headquarters on Bay 25th Street before the litter removal project got underway. Each volunteer was given a bottle of water before setting out.
The students also handed out fliers to pedestrians and merchants as the sidewalks were being swept. The fliers contained advice on the importance of obeying sanitation rules.
The volunteers included students from New Utrecht, Midwood, Brooklyn Technical, Edward R. Murrow, and Madison high schools.
The teens had a lot of work to do. Nearly every block in the cleanup zone contained litter. The street sees a lot of foot traffic. The 86th Street shopping zone runs parallel to the elevated train tracks of the D subway line. The stores sit in the shadow of the el. Litter is dropped by riders getting off the subway and by shoppers who patronize the stores on the street.
A clean, litter-free 86th Street is important to the economy because it helps local businesses attract customers, according to Gentile. “If you walk along 86th Street and see litter, it’s not conducive to a happy shopping experience,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. A dirty sidewalk might drive a shopper to take their business elsewhere, he said. “A clean sidewalk is inviting,” the councilman said.
Colton has been leading a grassroots cleanup campaign in Bensonhurst since 2011. Monday’s cleanup marked the 10th cleanup. Colton said he was delighted that so many young people turned out to give a helping hand. “They’re the bright light for the whole neighborhood. And of course, they’re the leaders of tomorrow,” he said.
Gentile, who has sponsored similar cleanups in the Bay Ridge end of his district in the past, joined Colton’s effort when redistricting brought a larger portion of Bensonhurst into his council district this year. His communications director, Justin Brannan, a Bay Ridge resident, also decided to assist in the cleanup. He picked up a broom and started sweeping the sidewalk near a subway entrance.
Priscilla Consolo, a Fordham University sophomore, helped Colton start the cleanup campaign two years ago. On Monday, she handed out the assignments, dividing the volunteers into small groups and directing them which blocks to take charge of. “It’s important to get young people involved. It allows them to take ownership of the community they live in,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Treyger, a New Utrecht High School teacher, agreed. “They see that they can make a big difference in their community and they can take pride in that. You’re less likely to litter the sidewalk after you’ve spent time cleaning it,” he said.
Consolo said she hoped the teens would inspire their fellow residents to keep their community clean and to think twice about throwing that gum wrapper on the sidewalk. “I hope we prove to be an example for other people in the neighborhood,” she said.
There is evidence that the theory works, according to Colton. He recalled that during a previous cleanup, an elderly man who had been watching volunteers sweep the sidewalk on his block grabbed his http://www.acehardware.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=2626180 broom and started sweeping the sidewalk in front of his house.