If you’re a regular traveler along the Rockaway Parkway Merchants Corridor, particularly the strip that stretches from Flatlands Avenue all the way to Foster Avenue, you can’t help but notice that something is different. And it’s not the boarded-up storefronts of businesses that did not survive the dreadful pandemic. Nor is it the carelessly strewn garbage on sidewalks instead of receptacles, the blocked storm drains or the eyesore and health hazard caused by illegal dumping.
What’s different on Rockaway Parkway is the gradual transformation of the corridor. The streets and sidewalks are cleaner, the air is fresher, storefronts have been spruced up and shoppers and commuters seem more relaxed and eager to stroll and patronize businesses. For Norine Medas, Executive Director of the Rockaway Parkway Merchants Association, the long-term goal is a complete transformation although she is over the moon with the small improvements her association has accomplished so far. “It’s a start,” she said while pointing to a flower bed and cherry tree that benefitted from their efforts to beautify and revitalize the area. The Canarsie Courier visited Medas on Wednesday, August 3rd in front of Capital One Bank on the corner of Glenwood Road and Rockaway Parkway, on what she calls “Wellness Wednesday.”
Medas had two helpers, a senior who goes by the name Miss Nancy and a teenager, Micah, from the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Without being asked, Micah proudly announced, “My name comes from the Bible.” Sitting under a small tent that barely spared them the onslaught of the summer heat, Miss Nancy and Micah manned a table crammed with non-perishable foods – sardines, tuna, salmon and brown rice, as well as assorted children’s books, toys and pampers, all donated by nearby pantries and merchants along the corridor. Miss Nancy explained that they sometimes have fresh produce but that depends on what the merchants have available.
As shoppers and commuters walked by, Medas invited them to take something from the table. “Can I offer you some food? How about some books or toys for your little ones? It’s all free,” she pressed those who politely declined. Sometimes a passerby stopped, and she would give them as much as they could carry. “This is where it all began,” the Executive Director explained. “Last November, one of the merchants was forced to shut down and wasn’t sure what to do with his inventory. I collected it and distributed to the community.” That was at a time when many families were experiencing food insecurity because of the pandemic.
But food distribution is not all the Rockaway Parkway merchants are about and this is where all of Wellness Wednesday, which began less than a year ago, comes in. It’s a huge part of the change you’ll experience if you visit the corridor on Wednesdays between 12 and 2 p.m. Get this – at her post in front of the bank, Miss Nancy teaches people to crotchet! During Women’s History Month, this past March, she had a class of six. A block away, off of Farragut Road, Tyler, another teen from SYEP is in charge of a miniature golf course set up strategically in front of a hair salon, a long-standing business in the community. Like Medas, Tyler interacts with passersby and encourages them to relax and take a putt or two.
Around the corner, his SYEP counterpart, Demale, manages a book wagon. “We want to encourage our young children to read and each child who reads three books receives a special prize from Senator Roxanne Persaud’s office,” Medas said.
In total, Medas has six youth from SYEP. She explains that everything she gives away is free and that she also gets assistance from the Hebrew Educational Society (H.E.S.). While Steven controlled a Cornhole game in front of a barber shop, Kareem set up his board game at an outdoor restaurant on East 95th Street and Flatlands Avenue. Christy, who assists with marketing and social media, had the luxury of working from home on that scorching hot day.