By Michael Morton
Nearly 100 volunteers of all ages swarmed over parts of Glen Oaks, Floral Park and Bellerose Saturday in an ongoing battle to keep the neighborhoods looking spic-and-span. The workers armed themselves with garbage bags and shears for weeds and overgrown bushes and wielded paint and brushes for graffiti. The assault represented one of the largest tidying efforts in the area and included an unprecedented cooperation among five civic associations.”This is the first time,” said Bruno DeFranceschi, president of the North Bellerose Civic Association, as he took a break from trimming a shrub along Little Neck Parkway. “It's due to my wife Ñ she got everyone together,” he added, explaining that he and his spouse, Lucy, came up with the idea and then contacted the other groups, which included the Queens Colony Civic Association in south Bellerose, Floral Park Community Council, Lost Community Civic Association in Glen Oaks and Rocky Hill Civic Association to the west of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.The civics chose sites within their individual boundaries, with graffiti on Union Turnpike near the Cross Island Parkway being painted over, a large patch of concrete near the corner of Winchester Boulevard and Hillside Avenue being cleared of weeds, and light poles near the intersection of Braddock Avenue and Jamaica Avenue receiving a fresh coat of paint.North Bellerose Civic Association concentrated its efforts on Little Neck Parkway north of Hillside Avenue and the work brought together community members young and old.”I says, Ôcount me in,'” said Howard Slater, a retired resident. “It's been terrible looking.”Taking a break from painting a graffiti-covered fence with red paint, 14-year-old Fernando Ortiz said “you don't want people terrorizing your fences or writing whatever they want.”Bruno DeFranceschi came up with the idea for the beautification day after convincing the Department of Sanitation to clean sections of Union Turnpike, Little Neck Parkway and Braddock Avenue. But sanitation and other city agencies continue to face a lack of resources and funding, and DeFranceschi wanted more done. So with the help of his wife he brought together the five civics. Although friendly with each other, the groups had only worked together under the larger auspices of the area's Community Board 13 and the borough's Queens Civic Congress.”This way it's more direct and fast-acting,” DeFranceschi said of Saturday's coordinated effort at the neighborhood level.To help with the cleanup, the Sanitation Department loaned some of its tools, and a nearby Pizza Hut donated food for a party held afterward at Floral Park's MS 172. The celebration was organized by Patrol Borough South's Operation TAG, or Together Against Graffiti, a year-old effort to combat illegal scrawls and artwork.”The purpose of this is to get the community aware of what we're doing,” said Sgt. Kevin Dunn, the graffiti coordinator. “It's tying the two forces together.” Saturday was the first time Operation TAG and its teenage volunteers from the police Explorers program had worked in eastern Queens' 105th Precinct.At the end of the party, state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) handed out certificates to the younger volunteers with the help of state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck). The civic group officers also received plaques from the 105th Precinct.Bruno DeFranceschi said he was pleased that together the associations had pulled off a successful cleanup. But he still hoped the Sanitation Department would get more manpower and make such volunteering unnecessary.Joking about his fellow civic group leaders, DeFranceschi said “we can hang out in a nice coffee shop instead.”Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.