After spending three years teaching classes to kids at the Rikers Island adolescent unit, Jordyn Lexton grew accustomed to seeing many of her paroled students simply return to prison.
Incarcerated youths as young as 16 are recognized as adults in the state of New York, which means they frequently leave prison with permanent felony records. Often prevented from getting a job or furthering their education, their chances of successfully integrating back into society are grim.
Lexton wanted to help break that cycle and do it in the most nourishing way possible—with food trucks. Along with entrepreneur Annie Bickerton, the pair founded Drive Change, a social enterprise that's launching a series of food trucks in New York City and hiring formerly incarcerated kids to operate them.
Drive Change's inaugural project, a truck called Snow Day, debuted on Dec. 8 in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. Its menu is packed with treats—maple grilled cheese, pancake poppers, pulled-pork sliders—that integrate locally sourced maple syrup from Crown Maple in Dutchess County.
The truck was formerly owned by New York City's utility company, ConEd, and Inhabitat reports that it was refurbished with the help of Brooklyn-based Situ Studio, whose team made over its exterior in a snowflake motif using reclaimed wood pieces and LED lighting.
Lexton's goal is to not only provide her kids with a paycheck and an appreciation for "farm-to-truck-ready" food but also change popular opinions that children who've been through the prison system aren't deserving of a second chance.
She told MSNBC, "We're giving people the opportunity to really interact with the young people in our program, face-to-face," she said. "And to have that with the source of this beautiful food...is something that's hopefully going to dispel that preconceived notion of what it means to be a formerly incarcerated young person."
The inspiration to marry food and social justice came to Lexton when she was still teaching at Rikers. Noticing that her kids were especially enthusiastic about a culinary arts class in the school program there, she was moved by the "amazing amount of pride that young people had preparing their own food, [and] serving food, and it just stuck with me."
In anticipation of the launch, the former teacher spent seven months learning the food truck business by working on one herself in New York City.
Now that it's made its debut, Snow Day is set to launch regular routes through neighborhoods in lower Manhattan beginning the first week of January.
As Drive Change head chef Roy Waterman—himself incarcerated at 19 and today the owner of a catering company—told MSNBC, "Food transcends everything—race divides, any sort of discrimination people have towards each other—food happens to just bring everybody together."