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Day 15 After Sandy: Elderly Chinese Residents Still in the Dark

Residents in the Knickerbocker Village would rather sleep outdoors than inside their dark, cold apartments that have been without power and heat. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

Chinese residents in Manhattan's Lower East Side are still suffering from cold and isolation more than two weeks after Sandy pounded through the tri-state area Oct. 29. Eight of the 12 buildings in Knickerbocker Village at 36 Monroe St. remained without heat, electricity, or hot water on Nov. 12.

“We are desperate,” said Xiaoqin Yang, 75, in Chinese. She has lived in Knickerbocker Village for the last 30 years. She said she has trouble sleeping in her freezing apartment.

The collection of federal and local assistance groups in the area offer basics that are often too difficult for senior citizens to access. Hamilton-Madison House, a voluntary, non-profit settlement house in the Two Bridges/Chinatown area, is donating food and bottled water to local residents. Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, a community service center, distributes food, water, toilet paper and other daily essentials. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has extra blankets to give out.

The nearest senior center is four blocks away from Knickerbocker Village. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

But residents must travel through dark hallways and down several flights of stairs in order to collect the donations.  Yang lives on the 10th floor on No. 12 building in Knickerbocker Village, a private complex for low-income residents.  She had to climb up and down 265 stairs with a flashlight every day to collect the meals from Chinatown senior center.

“I count the stairs to give myself a little hope,” said Yang.  “But at least I’m able to get out. My husband can’t. He can’t come down without elevator.”

Another Knickerbocker Village resident said she had trouble eating some of the donated food, because it was unfamiliar to her.

“It’s western style and tastes weird to me,” said Xiaoqin Chung, 66, in Chinese, about instant food such as pasta and cereal. Still, she said, "It's better than nothing.”

There are 1,600 families in the privately owned Knickerbocker, 80 percent of whom are low-income Chinese immigrants.  Linda He, a member of Cherry Green Management that runs the buildings, said more than 60 percent are over 65 years old.

“It’s really hard for them,” He said. “Some of them can’t walk. A few of them need the electricity to go through medical procedures every day, but now it’s impossible.”

A small generator explosion in the basement caused the extended power outage on Monday evening after Con Edison provided power back to Lower East Side. He said the outage happened when a maintenance person tried to turn on the switch while the basement was still flooded.

“We were lucky we didn’t die,” said He.

Younger residents charged their cell phones in one of the only two Knickerbocker buildings that have power.  (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

Twenty feet of seawater flooded the basement in the aftermath of Sandy, where generators and boilers are located. By Friday, workers were halfway through pumping out water. The generator is expected to be fixed first.  However, by Monday, it was still not clear when the power and heat will be back, according to Stephen E. Stanley, assistant manager of the building.

 

Posted in Featured, Housing0 Comments

Bronx Voters Flocked to the Polls in Spite of Sandy

Superstorm Sandy made its presence known on Nov. 6, as voters in the presidential election throughout New York City scrambled to find alternative  polling sites to replace the ones damaged by the storm. Sandy caused 60 total changes in voting locations across the five boroughs. Three of those changes took place in the Bronx. The Locust Point polling site moved from the Locust Point Civic Association to the parking lot of the MTA Throgs Neck complex. Soundview residents voted at the I.S. 174 Eugene T. Maleska School instead of P.S. 69 Journey Prep School, and Riverdale voters went to the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, which served as a substitute for Draddy Hall at Manhattan College. Though some people in the affected areas may not have been aware of last minute changes, most voters said they were notified with time to spare.

An MTA parking lot in Throgs Neck served as a makeshift polling site. (VIDUR MALIK/The Bronx Ink)

Riverdale residents relied on the Internet to get updates on site changes. Those without online access were left in the dark. “On the news they’re telling you to go to a website to check your polling site, but what if you don’t have Internet?” said Irene Bernstein, 63, of Riverdale. Bernstein expressed concern for the elderly, who she said may not use computers or may have lost Internet access in the storm. “The elderly are going to be disenfranchised,” Bernstein said. Several voters from outside the Bronx cast their ballots in the college polling site, making use of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order to let New Yorkers vote anywhere in the state. In Locust Point, a quiet, picturesque neighborhood in the southeast Bronx, voting seemed to take place without any hitches. A makeshift white tent was set up off the Throgs Neck Expressway on Monday evening. Voting machines were brought in Tuesday morning. Despite the quick turnaround, Locust Point residents said they were notified of the change in good time by the Civic Association and the Board of Elections. They received emails, letters, Facebook notifications and information from local newspapers.

In addition to flyers and email notifications, residents found the new polling sites posted on the the Civic Association gate on Locust Point. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

“This was not an inconvenience at all,” said Debbie Suarino of Locust Point. Suarino’s basement was flooded with three feet of water during the storm, but she made sure to vote. She got her polling site updates from the Civic Association and the New York Daily News. Louis Bevilacqua, who lives across the street from the Civic Association building, was hit with almost six feet of water. He made it to the voting tent, but said he was focusing more on getting through the aftermath of the storm than the election. “Was it a top priority? If I missed out on it, I would not have cried,” said Bevilacqua. For Daniel Tyx, a senior at SUNY Maritime, the storm may have actually made his voting experience easier. Tyx, who is originally from Buffalo, would have had to vote absentee or in Buffalo if not for Cuomo’s executive order. He said he logged into Google to find the new polling place and had to ask for directions to find it, but understood the difficult circumstances.

A last-minute white tent served as the polling site for Locust Point residents. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

“With the given situation, it was more of the best they could do,” Tyx said. Ruth Desplant, 52, of Soundview, learned about the changes in voting locations from flyers posted on storefronts, on gate entrances and slipped under residents’ doors. Desplant was constantly checking the Board of Elections website on Monday until it crashed later that evening. Along with her neighbors in a 2-block radius on Underhill Avenue, Desplant did not have electricity for a week after the storm hit. She woke up on Monday morning with the lights inside her home turned on. Desplant waited for her husband and 19-year old son to finish voting after she cast her own ballot at I.S. 174 Eugene T. Maleska School on White Plains Road.  Desplant made sure to inform her son, a first-time voter, about the candidates’ positions in the months leading up to Election Day. “I explained the ballots to him and that he has to be aware because this will affect him for years to come,” said Desplant. “You can’t complain if you don’t vote.”

Posted in East Bronx, Featured, Northwest Bronx, Politics0 Comments

Sandy Batters Eastern Coast of the Bronx

Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay and City Island neighborhoods along the eastern coast of the Bronx suffered the most damage when Hurricane Sandy hit Monday night. But residents in other areas of the Bronx also felt the effects of the storm, including Clason Point and Soundview. Among the most widely reported problems: fallen trees, power outages and property damage due to flooding. An estimated 49,387 customers, or 11.6 percent of Bronx customers served by ConEdison, were without power as of 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, ConEdison reported on its storm center database. Citywide, 661,592 customers had no electricity, including nearly 40 percent of ConEd customers in Manhattan. New York City public schools will remain closed for the third straight day on Wednesday. Subway service is expected to remain down for an unknown number of days, while the Metropolitan Transportation Agency tries to run as close to a full weekday bus service as possible on a fare-free basis Wednesday. For the latest transportation information, visit www.mta.info. To report downed power lines, outages or check service restoration status, visit  www.ConEd.com or 1-800-752-6633. To report fallen trees, dial 311. View a list of emergency resources compiled by News 12 The Bronx here.  

Hurricane Sandy Hits the Bronx

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Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage in Soundview. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, East Bronx, Multimedia, Slideshows, Southern Bronx0 Comments

From Weeds to a Healthy Harvest at Fordham

On most days, Dagger John’s restaurant at Fordham University earns its reputation as the most popular on-campus eating place. Students gather in the spacious dining area with music playing in the background.

But on Sept. 27, the music disappeared and half of the tables were taken over by baskets of vegetables and food scales. Half a dozen people gathered around each table, checking out and selecting vegetables and there was a line of customers extending out the door.

The interloper is officially called the St. Rose’s Garden Community Supported Agriculture Market. It is a cooperative vegetable buying club that invests in Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate Norwich, N.Y. The founder is Jason Aloisio, 27, an ecology Ph.D. student at Fordham, who is also the founder of an on-campus farm, St. Rose’s Garden.

Aloisio also works at the education center at Prospect Park Zoo, connecting teenagers with nature. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

“I love eating good food,” said Aloisio, “and I want people to connect to the nature through food. I want them to put their hands in soil, to see what food look like originally.”

Aloisio sees St. Rose’s Garden and the co-op farmer’s market as ways to help make diets healthier in the Fordham community and even the Bronx at large.

People can buy cheap organic vegetables, including tomato, parsley, radish, soybean, turnip, pepper, carrot and garlic grown in St. Rose’s Garden, or they can join the co-op and receive different fresh vegetables every Thursday from Norwich Meadows.

St. Rose’s Garden is believed to be the only on-campus garden in the Bronx; the only other on-campus farmers’ market is at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Growing up in Shoreham on Long Island, Aloisio learned to eat healthy food. As a child, his father, a dentist, kept no candy or desert at home. Fast or processed food was also rare in his home.

“We always had cooked food,” Aloisio said, “so I grew up with real good food.”

Throughout his four years at Fordham, Aloisio has brought that sensibility to the Bronx.  When he's not fulfilling his teaching responsibilities as a Ph.D. candidate, he spends his time on the rooftop of the university parking garage, which he considers his private lab. His dissertation is about “green roofs” in urban areas.

St. Rose’s Garden was originally a piece of unused land that university officials gave  to Aloisio to grow edible plants like tomatoes and pumpkins in order to demonstrate new uses for wasted spaces. But he decided instead to use the 1,500-square-foot area to build an on-campus community farm for the whole school.

Aloisio first had this idea of creating a garden on the grounds last year, but wasn't able to recruit enough volunteers.

This year, Aloisio prepared a formal proposal to change the abandoned land in the unused corner of the school near faculty parking garage into a community garden. He also went to different academic departments, trying to get at least $1,750 to buy essential materials for the garden.

The proposal earned Aloisio a little more than the minimum from three deans at Fordham University who also volunteered in the garden’s construction.

In April, Aloisio and Elizabeth Anderson, an undergraduate student studying environmental policy, started advertising for more volunteers through blogs and by sending emails to students.

On April 23, more than 50 volunteers, including students and faculty members, showed up to assist Aloisio and Anderson building the garden. They removed weeds, built eight raised beds covering 244 square feet and bought 20 cubic yards of soil to fill them. They also laid a water system and planted seeds that blossomed into rows of eggplants, green beans, green and red peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins and basil.

St. Rose's Garden is now producing more than 10 kinds of vegetables.  (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

St. Rose’s Garden offered up its first harvest in September. Green leafy vegetables poked out of their beds. Eggplants turned purple and hid under big leaves. Pumpkins were still in the yellow flower phase, quietly waiting their turn to ripen into fruit.

The garden has also helped grow other efforts at Fordham.

John van Buren, the director of Environmental Policy Program who serves as the faculty advisor for St. Rose’s Garden, is including eight hours of volunteer work at the garden as part of his class.

“Aside from providing fresh, organic vegetables, and an opportunity for playing in the dirt,” said Aloisio, “the underlying mission of St. Rose’s Garden is to be an educational catalyst, both in the classroom and in social settings, for discussion about the broken food system and coupled human-ecosystem interactions.”

He seems to be reaching that goal. “He (Aloisio) is very outgoing, a good person to get things going,” said Joe Hartnett, a junior biology student in the environmental policy class who was one of the volunteers. “He always makes things clear. He is a really good teacher.”

Aloisio was Hartnett’s assistant teacher when he was a freshman. Hartnett said Aloisio brought a lot of different ideas to their environmental classes, making their studies fun and easy to understand. “He is very vocal and energetic,” said Hartnett. “In his email to me, he would say something like ‘Yes, Joe. You CAN do this!’ ”

“He is so passionate,” said Samir Hafez, an economics and environmental policy graduate student. “I admire him for his energies. He never gets discouraged.”

Aloisio says the food co-op is another important component of his campaign to encourage healthy eating.

Consumers pay $16 per week to get a share of six to eight pounds of vegetables and fruit. They agree to buy produce from the farmers for 10 weeks. The vegetables are delivered to Dagger John’s every Thursday for less money than in the supermarket because there is no middleman.

Consumers don’t know what they will get for the week; it depends on what’s available. All the vegetables are picked less than two days before the market.

Katie Buckle, a sophomore at the Gabelli School of Business, did some math with her two roommates. They realized that it would only cost about $5 per person to receive more than enough healthy fruit and vegetables so the three of them decided to pool their money and buy a share together.

“The local farmers send whatever produce they have freshly harvested that week, so our weekly bounty will change and we will likely receive new fruit and vegetables we’ve never tried before,” said Buckle. “To me, this element of surprise is the best part.”

There are currently 137 shares of the co-op, more than Aloisio expected. “We were aiming for 50, and we got 137!” said Aloisio. “I was a little overwhelmed.”

Three resident assistants bought some shares to set up a little farmers’ market in their dorms.

“It helps me to keep a healthier diet,” said Jordan Higgins, a senior biology student. Higgins said she had to Google how to cook much of the produce, but it made her eat more vegetables.

Norwich Meadows Farm also provides vegetables to students at Fordham's  Lincoln Center campus.

Both the co-op and St. Rose's Garden share space at Dagger John’s. The student-run farmers market allows people who didn’t buy a share in the co-op the opportunity to enjoy fresh vegetables.

John Craven, a Fordham business professor, was one recent satisfied customer. “This is the best baby carrot I have ever had,” he said as he sampled a small fresh carrot grown in St. Rose’s Garden. He did not even scrub off the mud before he ate a second one.

Money earned by selling produce from St. Rose’s Garden goes to the daily maintenance of the garden.

“This is really not for profit,” said Aloisio. “We just want to get the food to people.”

The first day of the two markets was especially long for Aloisio. More than 200  people stopped by. Even though there were three volunteers helping him, Aloisio still had to answer all the questions about the food and the garden, organize containers and refill vegetables, and find bags for those who forgot to bring one.

St. Rose's Garden has donated a total of more than $1,000 worth of vegetables to Part of the Solution since the first day of the farmer's market. (YI DU/The Bronx Ink)

Four full containers of vegetables were left after the first day. Aloisio and his volunteers donated all the vegetables to a local non-profit group called Part of the Solution. These vegetables are repacked in Part of the Solution’s food pantry.

Aloisio would like to have more efforts in the Bronx beyond Fordham. Statistics from the Department of Health show that  only 6.3 percent of Bronx residents eat the recommended five daily servings of fruit or vegetables.“I hope to get more people involved,” he said, “Maybe refugees in the Bronx can come and work in the garden. Or maybe make it a refugee garden or a asylum garden.”

At the moment, however, it’s hard for people outside of the Fordham community to benefit from the garden. Visitors have to show a valid ID and pass a security guard to get on campus.

In the meantime, Aloisio is focused on keeping St. Rose’s Garden working smoothly.

All volunteers work on a weekly basis now. But as the mid-term approaches, a lot of students are too busy to help. Aloisio dedicates most of his time to the garden.

“I have free time, somewhere, not really,” said Aloisio, as he dropped off four containers of vegetables at Part of the Solution -- alone.

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Education, Food, Health, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Slideshows, The Bronx Beat0 Comments

Majora Carter Advocates for FreshDirect

FreshDirect hired Majora Carter, the award-winning environmentalist, to help the private company win over community support for its move to the Bronx, causing waves of online anger since its first announcement in February, according to DNAinfo.

Majora Carter is the founder of a green job nonprofit in Hunts Point, and has recently begun a for-profit consulting firm.

Local residents and activists claimed that FreshDirect delivery trucks for FreshDirect would pollute the neighborhood, precisely the kinds of claims Carter has championed in the past. They called for a FreshDirect boycott and filed a lawsuit against the company.

 

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Three-year-old Boy Falls to his Death from a 4th floor Apartment Window

A 3-year-old boy fell to his death from a fourth-floor apartment window on East 161 Street and Morris Avenue in the Bronx on Saturday, according to the Daily News.

Bystanders witnessed the tragedy, but failed to reach him in time to catch him. Several people administered CPR to Gabriel Estevez before the ambulance arrived.

Estevez crawled out of the window of  the superintendent’s apartment where his mother had left him temporarily. His father, a cab driver, was working.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Bernard Kerik Hovers Over the DiTommaso Perjury Trial

 

Peter DiTommaso appeared relaxed during the first day of proceedings in his trial on perjury charges. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Prosecutors argued Thursday in Bronx Supreme Court that construction company owners Frank and Peter DiTommaso lied to the grand jury six years ago about paying for renovations to the Riverdale apartment of disgraced former police commissioner Bernard Kerik. “Back in 1999, these defendants thought that Bernard B. Kerik was a big shot, that he had  juice, power and influence,” Stuart Levy, assistant district attorney told the jury on Thursday.  Prosecutors argued that the two brothers used the relationship with Kerik to gain government contracts and licenses. Kerik is scheduled to testify next month. “He will not take responsibility for their actions,” said Levy. Kerik, 57, is serving a 48-month sentence for eight federal crimes, including lying to White House officials when he was being considered to lead the Department of Homeland Security. Frank DiTommaso's attorney opened her defense with a flourish. "I'm tempted to quote 'My Cousin Vinny,'" said Cathy Fleming, referring to the 1992 Hollywood movie starring Joe Pesci. "What he said is BS," she said, waving her hand dramatically toward the prosecutor.  Members of the jury nodded and chuckled. Fleming then held up a poster-sized copy of her client’s indictment, in an attempt to argue that the district attorney's case is based on conspiracy theories. "The prosecutors blurred the timeline, blurred the brothers and blurred the companies,” she said. Frank DiTommaso, 53, is charged with one count of perjury while his brother, Peter DiTommaso, 51, faces two counts. The DiTommasos own the New Jersey-based companies, Interstate Construction, Interstate Drywall and Interstate Materials. Levy told the jury that the cost of the renovations that included a jacuzzi and a marble foyer totaled $255,000. He added that Kerik often complained to his friend Lawrence Ray that his government salary was insufficient to cover living expenses.

Justice John W. Carter ordered the DiTommaso defense attorneys (above) and prosecutors to refrain from issuing public comments. (COLEEN JOSE/The Bronx Ink)

Ray loaned money to Kerik for the down payment on his apartment. He was also employed by the DiTommasos from 1998 to 2000 as a business consultant. The defendant’s attorneys also stressed the relationship between Kerik, Ray and the DiTommasos. “How nicely that [Ray] fits in to the prosecutor’s conspiracy theory,” said Michael A. Marinaccio, the attorney for Peter DiTommaso. Ray was convicted of stock manipulation in 2000. The DiTommasos terminated his employment less than a week after his conviction. The trial is expected to resume Friday, Sept. 28, at 10:30 a.m. “I am confident that you will find the defendants not guilty as charged," concluded Levy, "but guilty as proven."

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Front Page, Money, Politics, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Fordham Residents Flee Raging Fire in Hazardous Apartment Building

Damage to the second-floor apartment where the blaze began at 2727 University Avenue. (YI DU / The Bronx Ink)

A fire ripped through a University Avenue apartment building on West 195th Street and Eames Place on Sept. 13, injuring 14 residents, three of whom are in critical condition. Residents described terrifying moments trying to flee on fire escapes that were hard to find in poorly lit, smoke-filled areas. Below a shattered fifth-floor window, a trail of blood stained the building. It was from a resident who severed an artery while trying to escape. The fire began in a second floor apartment after 11:15 p.m on Wednesday in the northwest Bronx. A 4-year old girl, 34-year old woman and 50-year old man are in critical condition at North Central Bronx Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital. Thick smoke traveled quickly and filled the poorly designed apartment units, making it difficult for residents to find fire escapes. “That was the worst several minutes in my life,” said Jeimy Diaz, a resident in the fifth floor who injured herself while trying to find the fire escape atop the darkly lit roof. “We thought we were gonna die. The whole building is damaged.” The fire department could not be reached for comment. DNAinfo.com reported 25 fire units, more than 100 firefighters, rushed to battle the blaze inside the six-story building. According to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the building has 21 violations described as "immediately hazardous with inadequate fire exits, rodents, lead-based paint, lack of heat, hot water, electricity, or gas.” The Brooklyn-based landlord, Residential Management Inc., has received 93 complaints this year from residents of the building, according to city records. The complaints range from broken windows, water leaks, mold and defective or missing smoke detectors. Charred furniture, strewn belongings and broken glass replaced what were once living spaces for many residents. While the cause of the fire is still under investigation, residents such as Diaz are asking to be relocated. She worries that her children who have asthma will suffer from the lingering chemicals that now rise from the building’s physical damage. Ryan Hernandez, 12, lives on the first floor and was able to immediately evacuate the burning building. “I didn’t know what was happening,” said Hernandez, “people were screaming and I heard the firemen say ‘get out there! Everybody get out.’” Coleen Jose can be contacted via email at lj2207@columbia.edu or on Twitter Yi Du can be contacted via email at yd2257@columbia.edu or on Twitter.  

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Housing, Multimedia, Northwest Bronx0 Comments

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