Seventh annual Taste Williamsburg Greenpoint raises funds for Firehouse North Brooklyn Community Center
North Brooklyn Vendors Offer Their Best Wares to Lure Customers & Foster Community
Restaurateurs, vintners, bankers, jewelers and even a maker of space-age dog beds gathered in East River State Park to display their wares and raise funds to complete the renovation and opening of the Firehouse North Brooklyn Community Center, a onetime FDNY Engine Company 212 located just blocks away on Wythe Avenue.
“It’s the most wonderful event of the fall,” Assemblyman for the 50th District Joe Lentol pointed out. “We’re trying to bring people in Williamsburg together … to recapture our old firehouse.”
The Firehouse North Brooklyn Community Center, which brought more than 40 vendors together, including Brooklyn Brewery, Pies ‘n Thighs, The Brooklyn Star, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Casper Mattresses, Investors’ Bank, Nitehawk Cinema and Botanikal by the Perez Sisters. Visitors had the option to purchase VIP tickets permitting them entry one half hour before the official opening, providing free reign among the goodies with less competition.
Organizers speculated that cloudy skies with a threat of rain might have prompted a slow response in the first hour of the event, but by the time the sun fully emerged, it was difficult to walk from one end of the park to the other without nudging people as they consumed amuse-bouche-sized portions or sampled artisanal spirits from plastic cups.
“New York City is the food capital of the world,” said NYC Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, whose 34th District includes Williamsburg, as he sampled Oddfellows Ice Cream’s cornbread flavor. “And Williamsburg is setting the standard.”
That standard included an overlay of activism not generally seen in other neighborhood food festivals. Maddy Wachtel and Charlie Forster Anderson of the Billion Oyster Project described their organization’s outreach to primary and middle schools, teaching the importance of the Hudson River estuary. Their goal is to establish one billion live oysters in one hundred acres of New York Harbor reefs by 2030 by returning scooped oyster shells back into the environment from which they were harvested. Rosangel and Alex Perez of Botanical Metaphysical Boutique produce custom jewelry from semiprecious minerals to help people commemorate important milestones: “We’re very proud and grateful to be part of significant moments in people’s lives,” said Rosangel Perez.
In fact, Taste of Williamsburg Greenpoint’s beneficiary itself is described by supporters as a “hub for civic engagement … and [to provide] space for local social justice organizations”. Its genesis, according to the Center’s web site, consists of grassroots activism of the most fundamental kind: City Hall, under tremendous financial pressure in the mid 1970s, sought to close Engine Co. 212. Neighborhood residents opposed the closure with direct action, inhabiting the firehouse for as long as sixteen months, until the city compromised.
Engine 212 was eventually closed down permanently in 2003. Several years later the Northside Town Hall and Community Center, a 501(c)(3), was formed to renovate and restore the building as a cultural and community center for Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents.
“We don’t have a community center in this neighborhood, which was the home of artists and musicians and non-profits,” Diana Zelvin, Firehouse North Brooklyn Community Center (which the original Northside Town Hall & Community Center was rechristened) director of development explained. “Primarily this is a place to bring everybody together—the oldtimers, the newcomers.”
Without question, the cause was good—the transformation of a venerable structure built to save lives and preserve property into a center focused on strengthening community and fostering social justice.
But it was the food and drink that brought people to the banks of the East River that sultry afternoon.
Scott Hansen summed it up best after sampling one of Freehold’s truffle pies: “My taste buds are happy!”
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