Like so many places across the country, the past several months have been challenging and unpredictable for our community. That’s why we wanted to do something special to spotlight the amazing people that make up our unique district.
Faces Of East Midtown is photo and interview series aimed at celebrating the humanity of our neighborhood and providing a real, raw and honest look at the faces behind the locally-owned businesses that have gone through unimaginable changes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
October 7, 2020
Photography by Ron Jautz, Jautz Photography
East Midtown Partnership: Tell us about your business or place of work. When did you originally open or start and what was your vision?
Barbara McLaughlin: The Fund for Park Avenue is the non-profit organization responsible for planting, lighting and maintaining the trees and flowers on the Park Avenue Malls, eight which are located in East Midtown. Through the Park Avenue Malls Planting Project we provide three seasonal plantings – spring tulips, summer begonias and fall chrysanthemums as well as all the necessary maintenance. The Park Avenue Tree Lighting is the continuation of a tradition that first started in 1945 when a small group of Park Avenue families lit fir trees to honor their loved ones who had died in World War II. Now over 100 trees illuminate the avenue each winter thanks to the contributions we receive from the community.
I’ve worked at The Fund for 11 years and this year the organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It was the vision of philanthropist Mary Lasker to beautify the city through the planting of trees and flowers that ultimately led to the creation of The Fund!
EMP: Give us an overview of what things have been like for you and your staff during the Covid-19 lockdown.
BM: Our fundraising is done primarily through two annual appeal mailings – one in the spring for the Planting Project and another in the fall for the Tree Lighting. When the city began to shut down in March, our materials, which were designed to reach people’s mailboxes on April 1st, were already at the mail house-- I sign each letter personally so the work is done well in advance of the actual mailing. But this year, many of our donors had left this city by early April so there was (and still is) a significant delay in contributions coming in. The Fund has two full-time employees. Initially we both worked remotely but we are now coming into the office on alternate days. Maintenance, such as lawn mowing, tree pruning and trash collection are considered “essential,” so our contractors were able to come to work as soon as the weather permitted. The Fund has worked with the same small, family-run companies for years and we were grateful for their flexibility and dedication during this time. Planting and other “beautification” activities were not permitted in the early days of the lockdown, but our tulip bulbs are always planted in the fall so the beautiful red tulips came up right on schedule in the spring!
EMP: After being shuttered for months, several more businesses are slowly starting to reopen in the district, what does that mean to you?
BM: That more people can enjoy the seasonal plantings – the tulips, begonias and the flowering trees were especially beautiful this spring and summer. It’s nice to feel some of the energy on the streets coming back.
EMP: What’s one thing you’ve either learned, grown to appreciate or adjusted in your business practices moving forward as a result of the pandemic?
BM: I definitely appreciate and have a greater respect for technology – and the need to keep it all up to date! If we hadn’t recently upgraded several of our platforms, it would have been much harder for us to swiftly transition to remote working.
EMP: What is your hope for the future of your industry in the city and the coming months?
BM: The beautification of our city through plantings is as important today as it was years ago when Mary Lasker made her first donation of tulip bulbs to the city. “Plant flowers where the masses pass” was her motto and we are proud to carry on her legacy and grateful for the contributions from the individuals and the Park Avenue commercial and residential buildings that that make all of our work possible.
EMP: Any other thoughts you want people to know as they venture out into the neighborhood?
BM: I hope that as people return to the district, the seasonal plantings and the illuminated fir trees bring them a sense of calm during this very uncertain time. And maybe now that they know a little more about The Fund and what we do, they’ll want to make a contribution!