Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, spent four hours driving down every street in his neighborhood making a note of how many mailboxes were bombed with graffiti.
Tired of playing “Whack-A-Mole” with graffiti artists, Wendell embarked on the neighborhood-wide canvass only weeks after holding an anti-graffiti event in late May, pondering a better way to protect the blue and green mailboxes and improve the aesthetics of Woodhaven in the process, instead of having occasional anti-graffiti events and then seeing the vandalism return weeks later. He thought a better idea would be to prevent the issue from becoming an epidemic in the first place.
First thing was to create an organized plan of attack. Using a method similar to when he gathered information on unplowed streets in the neighborhood after the 2010-2011 blizzards, Wendell took a map of Woodhaven and divided the neighborhood into three zones; Zone A, from the Richmond Hill border at 98th Street to Woodhaven Boulevard; Zone B, between Woodhaven Boulevard and Forest Parkway; and Zone C, from Forest Parkway to Elderts Lane, which marks the border with Brooklyn. On the map, he identified all the neighborhood’s mailboxes and placed red dots on ones marred by graffiti, while small green and blue squares represented mailboxes that had not been targeted by graffiti artists.
He then shared the map on Facebook with other Woodhaven residents. Creating the map allowed him to notice a geographic pattern concerning the graffiti problem.
“As you went from Richmond Hill to Brooklyn, you had more mailboxes that were hit,” he said. Breaking it down into numbers, Wendell said 31 percent of mailboxes in Zone A have some sort of graffiti, 44 percent in Zone B and 92 percent in Zone C including every single mailbox within four blocks of the Brooklyn border. Armed with that information, Wendell is planning on a painting blitz over the course of the summer, where teams of five people will join him to paint mailboxes a few at a time.
He sought out the help of area politicians and Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), whom Wendell said responded almost immediately, supplying WRBA with some blue and green paint.
Wendell is planning the first painting mission on Saturday, July 14 at 10 a.m., with other outings on Saturday, Aug. 4 and Sunday, Aug. 19. all at 10 a.m. and Tuesday, July 24 and Thursday, Aug. 9 at 6 p.m. for those who wish to help after work.
Wendell said each painting session will last about 90 minutes because each mailbox would only take a few minutes to paint. He said he compiled a list of times that would give residents who want to get involved a variety of opportunities whether it be on the weekend or after work on a weekday.
Wendell will keep a record of when each mailbox was painted. He hopes to use it to help crack down on graffiti by identifying problem spots where graffiti is common.
“As we paint one, mark down the date we painted it and build up a history of the mailboxes,” Wendell said. “We can get a grasp on which ones are targeted often and which ones we paint over and over again.”
He plans to use that information and share it with the 102nd Precinct to help them fight the graffiti problem in the neighborhood.
Besides the mailboxes, Wendell said WRBA will also focus on the old red fire call boxes that stand on street corners or hang from telephone polls. The call boxes, which are used to alert the Fire and/or Police departments from the street in the event of an emergency, have been rendered mostly obsolete by cellular phones and other forms of mobile technology in the last decade and have become relics. In many cases, the boxes have been damaged and the few the city have not removed have not been maintained.
With the assistance of Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), Wendell acquired some red paint to give those a touch up along with the mailboxes.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) also responded to WRBA’s request for help.
Wendell said taking on the graffiti has unearthed other issues, such as the red call boxes, and gives Woodhaven residents an excuse to improve the general quality of life in the neighborhood.
“It presents us with a good opportunity to do some beautification of the neighborhood as well,” he said.