2017-10-18 / Front Page

Hunters Point Civic Association Hosts Cancer Awareness Speaker & Holiday Charity Drives

By Thomas Cogan
The Hunters Point Civic Association meeting for October was held at the Irish Center on Jackson Avenue the same night as the Long Island City Business Improvement District’s annual meeting, which was held slightly earlier but on the same street, Jackson Avenue.  This allowed some to attend both meetings, including one of the speakers, City Controller Scott Stringer, who took a look at the current city scene from his official position as its financial manager.  He was followed by Anna Kril, a breast cancer survivor who has established a reputation as a health activist in Astoria and now is spreading her message to other parts of the borough.  The last speaker was John Dallaire, who runs HPCA’s Thanksgiving food drive each year and is preparing for this year’s. 

Stringer arrived a little late and waited while HPCA President Brent O’Leary talked about going to Puerto Rico recently with some money and a lot of food for survivors of Hurricane Maria.  The city controller began by praising civic associations and other neighborhood groups, saying he got to know them at an early age, since he was attending local meetings and rallies when he was 14, as a nephew of Congresswoman Bella Abzug might be expected to do.  He said that as controller, he is responsible for pensions and looking after the welfare of the citizens. When money is saved instead of wasted, it is returned to the general treasury.

A prime worry among New Yorkers is the status of transportation.  He said the city is defined by its transportation grid, but New York hasn’t had a new transportation idea since the first subway line was opened in 1904.  From the audience a question was asked about the increase in ridership with the increase in population.  It has led to a crisis of functionality, owing to an old system that needs extensive repairs and the time to make them while the demand for ridership grows.  The controller said he has made surveys that have produced stories of lateness at workplaces and consequent threats to job retention, or about disabled persons stranded in stations. 

He said he believes in a transportation bond act, specifying that if it is on a statewide ballot in 2018 it could be passed and funds would be available in 2019.  Also, he can believe in Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joe Lhota’s insistence that the city contribute more funding for state-run transportation, but wants “strings attached” that will allow some control over the money.  He said it was a blunder to divest from transportation after the economic recovery of the 1980s.  Asked about the Brooklyn-Queens Connector he said he liked it an innovation but is aware it could be run into great difficulties while under construction.  It also represents a plan by experts that fails to consider community investment.

He responded to the issue of housing and public land by saying it’s “our land” and a great opportunity to build working class and middle class housing.  Public property should be given to neighborhoods that can establish land banks.  He cited the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) of the La Guardia years and Mitchell-Lama housing some two decades later as the city’s greatest housing programs.  Now, we are subsidizing developers to gentrify, he said.  His last observation was in answer to a question about more affordable condominiums (the inquirer believing that owners make the best activists) and more middle schools.  The controller said that 40-story residences are always shovel-ready but not schools.  The standard method is to put up a building, pack in new population and then search for places where the kids among them can go to school.  He said that as Manhattan borough president he spent seven years finding school space after the fact.  Building plans must be more future-oriented.

Anna Kril was a breast cancer patient in the early 1990s.  She told the meeting that at the time she paid for mammography and chemotherapy by raiding her employment pension plan.  She complained to City Councilman Peter Vallone that there was little or no support for someone like her in Astoria.  He suggested she and other women she knew with the same complaint should form their own group and become activists.   She and three other cancer survivors therefore established SHAREing & CAREing in 1994.  Its address is 45-02 Ditmars Blvd., Suite 1016 and its helpline is 718-777-5766.

 Its stated mission is to “improve services to women, men and their families (regardless of ethnic or economic strata) in detecting, treating and living with the effects of breast and other forms of cancer.”  Finding free or low-cost cancer screenings and treatment; case management; counseling, both individual and group; benefit entitlement assistance; and education and advocacy are among the group’s services.  Men with cancer are also assisted.

Kril said that SHAREing & CAREing has had its successes but has never been richly-funded.  It gets some funding from the City Council but mainly it solicits community support and stages an annual fundraiser.  She described herself as S & C’s publicity department.  In the 1990s her first quest for a grant, one that would allow the group to counsel high school girls about breast cancer was called futile by those who said teenagers wouldn’t be worried about or interested in cancer.  In time, she said, she was proven right, they wrong; and some of those girls eventually got cancer and one of them died of it.  She needs to get the work out beyond Astoria, she said.

In the first three years of the HPCA’s Thanksgiving food drive, 11,000 pounds of food has been collected and distributed, John Dallaire said, saying also that he’ll go anywhere to get it.  Food is a term that here means not just edible stuff but necessities such as diapers and non-prescription medicines.  All that is needed by the growing body of homeless persons.  Homelessness has increased 86 percent in the past 10 years, Dallaire asserted, and the population is now between 60,000 and 65,000, half of them children.

Though he’s willing to go anywhere for a food collection, in fact the operation is currently located solely in Queens and Manhattan.  He said that collections are made in residential buildings, where he has established rapport with owners and supers.  This year, distribution of collection cartons will be in early November and pick-up will be in mid-month. Collections will be delivered to sorting stations.  Sorting day will be Thursday, November 30, a week after Thanksgiving and at a place (probably a church basement) to be determined.  Delivery to food pantries is Saturday, December 2.  Collection, sorting and distribution is labor-intensive, he said, but there is much voluntary labor.  Sorting has proven to be a family-oriented occasion, with kind of a party atmosphere.

 Dallaire explained that the food drive is named after Thanksgiving but is really at its busiest in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  This is because there are heavy charitable deliveries to food pantries in time for Thanksgiving but right afterward, nearly everything has been consumed and the Christmas demand  must still be tended to. 



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