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Drive Change brings food, social justice together to enlighten NYC communities with new initiative

Drive Change looks to humanize issues with the state’s criminal justice system through food.

Drive Change operation manager Kirk Archibald speaks to

Drive Change operation manager Kirk Archibald speaks to "prisoners" as he explains the inequities in the bail system, specifically barriers to trial, near the award-winning Drive Change food truck on Friday, May 11. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Here’s some food for thought: Social justice organization Drive Change is bringing its Vendy Award-winning food truck to Manhattan and Brooklyn this summer to feed both mind and body.

The organization is kicking off a new, twofold initiative called Awareness and Access Days (A+A), which seeks to spread the word about bail reform and enlighten New Yorkers in need on where they can find healthy, locally sourced food.

Launched in April 2014, Drive Change helps formerly incarcerated adults by providing direct assistance in gaining the necessary skills for them to obtain meaningful employment in the culinary arts industry.

“The one thing that’s the most important is being able to provide for yourself and provide for your family when you’ve left jail or prison, and the opportunities that are provided to young people that are returning from jail are very scant and very rote,” Jennifer Williams, the organization’s chief operating officer, said.

With its Awareness Day events, Drive Change looks to challenge the community to reimagine how the state’s bail system works with a call-to-action event that goes beyond a simple food truck with a petition to sign.

Rolling into Union Square (near Broadway and East 17th Street) around noon on Friday, Drive Change staff handed out food to parkgoers while asking them to consider how the bail system, particularly cash bail, affects low-income New Yorkers.

“The criminalization of poverty is something that continues to occur,” Williams, of Brooklyn, explained. “There are individuals inside Rikers because they can’t pay sometimes $1, sometimes $100.”

Live performance artists also were on hand to keep people engaged.

The food truck itself serves up locally sourced dishes that are “extraordinarily tasty” but also recognizable, according to Williams, such as Chinese-style fried rice with heirloom purple carrots and other colorful vegetables and tempura-fried cornballs made of corn straight from the husk.

Williams, 33, said they chose Union Square because unlike some of the other parks in Manhattan, it tends to attract more city residents than tourists.

“When you have a conversation that humanizes the issue, people are surprised,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that we were having this conversation where we could target as many New Yorkers as possible, because we’re highlighting very important issues impacting New York.”

Bail reform is the first of three criminal justice reforms that will be addressed by the organization’s Awareness Day. Later this year, Drive Change will also highlight the need to close the Riker’s Island jail complex and the “awful” state of food within New York’s jails and prison, Williams said.

Drive Change will head over to The Gregory Jackson Center in Brownsville, Brooklyn a week later, on May 18, for the launch of Part Two of its initiative: Access Day.

The 11 a.m. event aims to inform residents who are struggling with where their next meal will come from on how to access healthy food options in their neighborhood and the surrounding areas, from Ocean Hill to East New York and Canarsie.

“In a lot of neighborhoods there are green markets that pop up or gardens that provide produce, but if you don’t know that they’re there, you don’t know that they’re there,” Williams said.

Drive Change enlisted the help of East New York urban farmer Alexis Mena and Melting Pot Foundation instructor Rodney Frazier to lead cooking demonstrations so residents can learn tasty ways to prepare the food when they get home. 

“It speaks to eating food with a purpose,” Williams added.

Drive Change plans to hold A+A events on the second and fourth Friday of each month through the fall.

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