Saturday mornings are busy times for East Side residents. We all go to PS 183’s Green Market and Flea Market on 67th Street and York Avenue to buy our vegetables, fruits, bread cakes, jewelry and chachkas. We meet friends and chat with vendors, many of whom we have known for 35 years. It was George Filipowski who made this wonderful adventure possible!
At a PTA meeting back in 1981, all the parents were upset because the city had just announced further cuts in the public school curriculum, which included eliminating science, art and music as well as physical education.
The PTA had $40 available to supplement any program. George’s solution was to raise money and hire our own teachers to replace those being fired. It was going to require substantial and ongoing funding. George came up with the idea of starting a flea market, renting school lunch tables in the school cafeteria for $15 each every Saturday to vendors. These vendors would sell an assortment of items and the PTA would run its “La Rummage” table of used children’s clothing. This table was a huge success as prices were $1 for jackets, boots, sweaters, rainwear and jeans. The children liked seeing their friends wearing their old clothes! Later a farmer’s market was added in the school yard. Fresh produce came in from farmers all over the Tri-state area and beyond This became a big money-maker. Most of the school programs that had been cut were restored.
All this happened because George obtained New York City rules for PTA organizations regarding financial projects. Helped by a few hardened PTA volunteers, he proceeded step by step, including the process of renting the school yard and lunchroom from the board of education, payment of custodial union fees, insurance policies, parking fees and neighborhood cooperation, to name a few. With all the work, we had a mantra “Let George do it” and he did! He was able to engage local politicians, community organizations and the local hospitals.
He arranged for Rockefeller University to send one of their scientists on a weekly basis to talk to our kids about what it’s like being a scientist. Sloan Kettering and NewYork Presbyterian Hospital gave the school money to set up a computer program. The PTA provided an after-school program that took care of the kids until 6 p.m. every school day.
George also took care of the needy by letting tables for free to the AIDS Foundation, homeless shelters and arranged for all left over food be given to the Sisters of Mother Teresa.
The vendors were very happy to have a place to sell their items. What is amazing is how successful this idea of George’s was as it is still going strong 35 years later.
George died last month after a serious illness but we cannot forget what he did for our community.