A side of social conscience with your maple syrup? Photo: Courtesy Drive Change
The sweet scent of maple syrup–laced grilled cheese sandwiches and pulled pork sandwiches lures hungry crowds to Snowday, a French Canadian-styled food truck in New York City. The enterprise has proved popular since its founding in April of this year, snatching up the coveted 2014 Rookie of the Year Vendy Award (which recognizes street vendors for excellence).
But this is a vehicle with goals well beyond infusing as many foods as possible with New York State maple syrup: Snowday is run by Drive Change, an organization that employs previously incarcerated young people and prepares them for re-entry to mainstream society.
Maple pulled pork sliders, anyone? Photo:
Twenty-eight-year-old Jordyn Lexton, a former teacher at Rikers Island Correctional Facility, dreamt up the program. Rikers is a prison designed for adults, but it holds roughly 300 inmates between the ages of 16 and 17.
By law, they must attend a state-run high school, which is where the kernel for Snowday was planted in Lexton’s mind. ”I was an English teacher there for three years, and witnessed firsthand the detrimental effects of the criminal justice system on youth,” she told us. Lexton added that New York is one of only two states in America that automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults in criminal court.
"[I saw] the internal barriers that were placed on young people, the way a young person’s self-esteem is affected and the abusive nature of the environment," she said. "It became very clear to me that support was really necessary during re-entry. And it became very clear to me that this was the work I was meant to be doing."
A few Snowday staffers. Photo: Scott Gordon Bleicher, courtesy of Edible Manhattan
After conducting considerable research—which involved working the line at another popular food truck, Kimchee Taco—Lexton devised Snowday’s six-to-eight month transitional program, which transforms formerly incarcerated young people into a well-oiled food truck staff.
They’re put through the wringer, and required to take courses in hospitality training, food safety, and mobile vending. Accounting, marketing, culinary arts, and small business education are also in the mix. That’s why, Lexton said, staffers are selected for their enthusiasm and ability to “jump in and do what you have to do to make things work.”
Maple syrup-laced grilled cheese, straight from the truck.
So far, Lexton says, her operation has been a success. Of Snowday’s first class of eight, who graduated in late 2014, two have since transitioned into mainstream employment. The remaining staffers will stay on to train the next class, arriving next spring. By the end of 2015, says Lexton, Snowday will have employed 24 formerly incarcerated youth.
"I think, by nature of what we’re doing, we’re dispelling preconceived notions about what it is to be incarcerated," Lexton said. "In a culinary arts class [at Rikers], I would see discipline, determination, focus, and real self-confidence. It always stuck with me. I believe in the power of food to bring people together."
Want to try Snowday’s food? Follow @snowdaytruck on Twitter to see where the truck is located in New York City each day.