Photo: Judith Marks. A needle dispensary box at St. Mary's Park before it was taken down.

Carmen Santiago’s crusade to rid St. Mary’s Park of unsightly and ineffective needle disposal boxes finally met with success.

After months of lobbying city and Bronx officials, conducting community walkthroughs, speaking out at district council meetings, and alerting local media, Santiago’s activism paid off.

The news came in an email sent Tuesday  to Santiago and a “who’s who” list of Bronx community leaders and activists by Kelvin Lomax, an administrative manager for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“Just to inform that the syringe and orange boxes have been removed today by Parks staff,” the message said.

The boxes had been installed in the Mott Haven park—the South Bronx’s biggest—three years ago, in hopes they would be used to collect needles disposed of by drug users. But the boxes most often went unused and had become damaged eyesores.

Two weeks ago, Santiago led a small group of residents and media through the park to the areas occupied by the needle boxes, and the group witnessed used hypodermic needles strewn around the ground near the boxes and other park areas.  

Her campaign included speaking at the February meeting of the 40th Police Precinct Community Council. She warned that the boxes actually invited drug users to the area and created a safety problem, particularly for children.  

Neither the Parks Department nor Santiago responded to a query about next steps to abate the continuing drug usage problem in the northern section of the park.

But in a series of emails over the past year intended to attract a broad audience to her cause, she identified many other “public safety, health and environmental issues” that plague the park.  

Removing the needle boxes cannot solve the complex social problems of “illegal drug use, homelessness, and mental illness,” she conceded in the emails. But she said that while society looks for solutions to those overarching problems, community parks should not be sacrificed.


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