Food truck non-profit serves up social justice
by Jess Berry
May 01, 2014 | 4073 views | 0 0 comments | 149 149 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Snow Day food truck
Snow Day food truck
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Jordyn Lexton taught 16, 17 and 18-year-old young men on Rikers Island — New York City’s main jail complex — for three years. During that time, one thing continued to weigh on her mind: the recidivism rate for the population that she was teaching is around 70 percent. That is an astonishing rate by any measure, and Lexton said it is due to New York law.

“Due to the fact that New York still automatically treats 16-year-olds like they’re adults, those young men were leaving the system often with felonies on their record,” she said. “The likelihood that you can go on and get a job, go back to school, to social services, when you already have a felony and you’re that young is extremely challenging.”

That is when Lexton started developing the idea that would eventually become Drive Change — her non-profit food truck organization that hires and trains formally incarcerated youth and serves as a reentry program for them.

That idea originated about two years ago. Once the thought was there, Lexton worked in reentry for a year and then on a food truck for six months. About a year ago, she started fundraising and making connections to get her first truck up and running.

Lexton hopes that Drive Change will grow by one truck every year. Each of her trucks will hire ten formally incarcerated young men to work on a three-phase, eight-month program, at the end of which they will be assisted in finding more permanent employment. That means each of her trucks will assist thirty young men per year find employment.

She has many reasons for choosing a food truck as her mechanism for helping those young men she used to teach. The first reason is, in fact, because of her experience at Rikers Island.

“One of the only classes inside of Rikers that I saw the spirit of young people really inflated in a very devastating environment was in the culinary arts program,” Lexton said. “So I started really thinking about how food is a true mechanism for getting people together, for a lot of creativity and it’s a great teaching tool.”

Add the passion for food together with Lexton’s desire to spread awareness of issues in the criminal justice system and you get the vehicle half of the food truck.

“Putting it all on wheels made sense to me,” she said. “Get out into the community, talk to people, let them know. Be a visual demonstration that the young people that you think are these hardened criminals are really just wonderful humans that under different circumstances, with the right employment opportunity and the right training opportunities, will go on to live crime-free, bright futures.”

The program in full will launch this fall, but Lexton and her inaugural team of hires have already started serving delicious maple syrup-inspired dishes off of their first truck, Snow Day.

The menu features both sweet and savory foods, like grilled cheese with Canadian bacon drizzled with maple syrup or “sugar on snow” — fresh snow with hot maple syrup poured on top, which creates a sweet taffy.

Lexton also said that she decided on a maple syrup menu because she learned that New York is one of the top producers of maple syrup in the country. All of the food on the truck is locally sourced.

“That’s a really important part of what we do, too,” Lexton said.

Snow Day has been up and running for about three weeks now, and Lexton said it has been a great success.

“Everything is going great. The guys are doing a great job,” she said.

A visit to the truck shows that the guys are having a lot of fun with it, too. Frederick, who has been working with Lexton since the fall, said he loves to see people enjoying the food he and his coworkers are making.

“I’m having so much fun,” Frederick said. “People like to think that this is hard work. If you love it, it comes so easily.”

He hopes to stay on with Drive Change as a mentor for the future cohorts. Besides having a passion for food, Frederick said he really believes in Lexton’s cause and what she is trying to accomplish through Drive Change.

“The goal to lower the rate of formerly incarcerated youth going back, serving people good food, putting some money in some guys’ pockets and doing all of that while accomplishing Jordyn’s dream? To help someone accomplish their dream while accomplishing my own dream, there’s nothing but positivity coming from that,” he said.

Drive Change’s first truck Snow Day can be found in DUMBO at the corner of Water and Jay streets on Thursday nights, at the Royal Palm Shuffleboard Club one rotating night a week, and at Grand Army Plaza every third Sunday starting on April 27. It will also be one of the vendors on Governor’s Island this summer for most weekends.

For all locations and updates, follow Snow Day on Twitter @snowdaytruck or check out the website at www.snowdayfoodtruck.com.
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