By Sari Kamin
What has four wheels, serves pulled-pork sandwiches and delivers a message of social justice? Give up? It's the Drive Change food truck and it's coming to the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn this summer.
Started by former English teacher on Rikers Island, Jordyn Lexton, Drive Change is a concept, an organization, and a food truck all wrapped up into one.
Jordyn spent three years teaching young people at East River Academy, a public school serving the youth incarcerated at Rikers. New York State is one of only two states (North Carolina is the other) that automatically arrests 16-year-olds as adults. Jordyn was shocked at what she saw happening to the younger inmates of the prison. "It's no place for kids," she exclaimed during a recent interview at Heritage Radio Network. Jordyn explained that young people who are incarcerated as adults are more likely to be physically and sexually assaulted and 36 times more likely to commit suicide. Once released, they are 85 percent more likely to commit violent crimes than young criminals who were sent to rehabilitative programs.
Jordyn knew she had to do something to stop the vicious cycle of incarceration, re-entry, and incarceration. Along with her development director, Annie Bickerton, they hatched a plan to create a food truck that trains and hires formerly incarcerated youth as employees and teaches them transferable skills while offering mentoring and preparation for re-entry into society.
Jordyn chose food as a vehicle because it's way to reach people from all different backgrounds. Food is an integrator, a uniter and a way in to different neighborhoods. With the mobility that the truck allows, Drive Change has the unique advantage of accessing different neighborhoods and allows for real engagement with communities.
In addition to training, hiring and paying formerly incarcerated youth as employees of the food truck, the food comes served with a side of advocacy. The truck will be embellished with LCD screens that display messaging about childhood incarceration and the packaging of the food will also offer information regarding this issue. The subtle messaging of the truck is intended as a way to reinforce the concept of food as a vehicle -- figuratively and literally.
Both women acknowledge their endeavor won't be successful if the food is not up to par, so they've carefully constructed a menu that is designed to appeal to the masses. Jordyn and Annie describe their food as "farm to truck ready." Their signature dish is "sugar on snow," a recipe drawn deep from the depths of Jordyn's childhood memories; it's the taffy-like result of pouring hot maple syrup over fresh snow. All the ingredients will be locally sourced and the focus of maple syrup in across the menu is intended to draw attention to upstate NY farmers.
Daniel Meyer, the host of the "Good Food" program the women spoke on at Heritage Radio Network remarked that he was most impressed by Jordyn's ability to diagnose the best way to address a problem. Jordyn spent seven months working on the Kimchi Taco truck in order to learn the ins and outs of managing a food truck before attempting her own. Her work on Rikers has also allowed her to develop strong relationships with the re-entry community and the criminal justice community. Her advice when undertaking an advocacy plan is to identify the stakeholders in your mission and then insert yourself in those fields and build those relationships. Oh -- and opening your mouth. Good advice indeed, especially when the result is delicious food. Now that's some good eating.
To hear this interview and more, click on http://www.heritageradionetwork.com/episodes/3739-Good-Food-Drive-Change
To learn more about Drive Change, check out their website: www.drivechangenyc.org
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that New York is the only state that automatically tries 16-year-olds as adults, but in fact, New York will soon be the only state that automatically arrests 16-year-olds as adults.