Volunteer keeps his local playground free of trash
by Samantha Galvez-Montiel
Oct 07, 2020 | 2735 views | 0 0 comments | 98 98 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Joao Crisostomo shows off the supplies he uses to keep the neighborhood clean.
Joao Crisostomo shows off the supplies he uses to keep the neighborhood clean.
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João Crisóstomo, who has lived in New York City for the past 45 years, and has lived an eventful life, from being Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ butler to a life of activism in his home country of Portugal.

He moved to New York City 45 years ago. Since 1997, Crisóstomo and his wife Vilma Kracun, whom he married in 2013, have resided in Woodside, where they volunteer their time cleaning their neighborhood and Big Bush Playground.

“Thirteen years ago I started to volunteer helping Jack Maurin, then a park supervisor, to keep Big Bush Park and other parks clean,” Crisóstomo said.

But Crisóstomo has seen his local park neglected, even after $1 million was allocated about two years ago to renovate the park. Since then, Crisóstomo has volunteered his time to keep the park clean, as well as other areas in the neighborhood with trash problems.

“The beautiful fenced park was naturally meant to prevent children and others from reserved areas, but it does not provide a simple gate for access for cleaning, watering, eradication of weeds, and removal of fallen branches,” he said. “I have climbed the fence many times to do so, otherwise the place would always be a terrible mess and a lure for rats.”

Crisostomo said he was pleased the trash in Big Bush Park was recently picked up by Parks Department employees, but was upset it took over three weeks and only after he contacted several local officials, including Assemblyman Brian Barnwell.

“As City Hall has drastically slashed the Department of Sanitation’s budget, we have seen garbage and debris pile up over our streets,” said the assemblyman. “My requests for more bins and more pick-ups have repeatedly been denied. It is unacceptable what is going on.”

A Parks Department spokesperson confirmed that recent budget cuts have led to staff shortages.

“As of the last budget announcement, Parks’ FY21 budget is $503 million, this reflects an $84 million reduction from last year,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “We are unable to hire any seasonal staff this year to support Maintenance and Operations citywide due to budget cuts. Big Bush Park gets cleaned daily and landscaping is tended to as able.”

Crisóstomo said the lack of cooperation from temporary park workers could stem from rotating schedules and the fact they don't always recognzie him.

“The workers more than once have explained to me their refusal to go into the fenced areas as something dangerous to do,” he said.

Crisostomo led a full life before he ever moved to Wooside. He was born in Portugal in 1944 and attended seminary before completing military service in Africa,

He learned English, and waited tables in London in the early 1970's. Crisostomo moved to New York in 1975, eventually working for Kennedy Onassis performing household duties. He became an American citizen on September 12, 1973.

In 1994, he began working to conserve the Stone Age engravings of Foz Côa in Portugal, which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Israel honored Crisóstomo with his own stamp in 2017 for his work to tell ths story's of Holocaust hereos Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Luis Martins de Sousa Dantas, Père Benoit, and others.
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