Jackson Heights Food Cart Owners Join Cleanliness Program

Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), left, with members of VAMOS Unidos, announcing a new campaign by food vendors to keep streets and sidewalks clean. (Photo by Josey Bartlett via Queens Chronicle)

Food cart owners operating in the Jackson Heights and Corona sections of City Council District 25 have joined a voluntary pilot project to keep the streets and sidewalks clean, especially around their carts, says Josey Bartlett in a report published in Queens Chronicle. Under the program, street vendors will clean a 20-foot radius around their carts and also provide trash cans for leftover food and wrappers. Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and VAMOS Unidos, a nonprofit advocating street vendor rights, launched the project on April 23.

“We want people to know that we know this is an issue,” food cart owner Samuel Noor said.

Noor has been serving rice, chicken, samosas and other South Asian and Middle Eastern food from his Vendy Award-winning cart since 2003. Vendors signing the symbolic contract will show their commitment to the program by posting a circular sticker on their carts. Noor has posted such a sticker on his cart, which is parked near the pedestrian plaza on 74th Street.

“It’s tight times and it’s easy to point fingers at others,” Noor said, “but we aren’t outsiders. We live here.”

“We pay taxes too,” he said.

Jeff Orlick, who gives weekly tours of the best food places in the neighborhood, agreed that it’s a good way to keep a balance between cart and restaurant owners.

“It is a nice show to the business owners that [the food carts] are doing their part,” Orlick said. “I think it’s great that Danny Dromm is trying to find a way to coexist, not eradicate.”

“Remember that vendors are human beings with families too,” Dromm said.

There were calls for better regulations for food carts’ roadside parking and food hygiene at a town hall meeting organized by Community Board 4 on April 24. Community members from LeFrak City on Junction Boulevard and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) were among the attendees. Concerns about hygiene and regulations aside, many roadside businesses are expected to join the program and contribute to the overall state of cleanliness in the congested neighborhood. Participants may include many unregistered businesses.

Alfonzo Marin, who has been selling arepas, a Colombian dish made with cornmeal, for the last 30 years and only recently with a license, promises to keep the surroundings of his cart clean to show his commitment to the program.

“We make contributions to the economy because we buy and sell here in Jackson Heights,” Marin said. “We live here too.”

VAMOS Unidos plans to expand the pilot to other neighborhoods including in the Brooklyn district overseen by Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D-Brooklyn), another lawmaker who has expressed interest in adopting it, according to VAMOS Unidos Executive Director Rafael Samanez.

“It is these kinds of pro-worker, pro-community projects that improve neighborhoods,” Samanez said.

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