Vendy Cup winner had roots in LIC as Jax Heights gears up for Viva La Comida

By Bill Parry

A street food vending truck, which got its start in Long Island City, captured the top prizes for its grilled cheese sandwich at the Vendy Awards on Governors Island last Saturday.

Snowday food truck, run by the non-profit organization Drive Change, captured the People’s Choice Award and the coveted grand-prize Vendy Cup at the 10th annual awards that drew more than 2,000 foodies to Colonel’s Row on the island.

“It was a pretty remarkable day and we’re all feeling very proud,” Drive Change Executive Director Jordyn Lexton said. “It feels incredible to win and now we just have to figure out how to leverage this to make more people aware of our mission. The more people that are made aware of the injustice inside the system, the more people will contribute to the work that we do.”

Lexton calls Snowday a vehicle for social justice because it is staffed by formerly incarcerated young people. Lexton founded Drive Change in 2013 after teaching high school English on Rikers Island where young people as young as 16, 17 and 18are treated as adults and face harsh conditions.

“Young people who are considered adults criminally may leave the system with open felony records as opposed to juvenile adjudications,” Lexton said. “Finding employment is very difficult and leads to a 70 percent rate of recidivism; 60 percent are rearrested within a year of release.”

Drive Change offers a different path with their eight-month program that combines employment with teaching transferable skills that they take with them to future opportunities.

“At Drive Change we turn red lights green,” Lexton said. “We broaden access to opportunity. We train, mentor and employ and empower. We recruit them when they get out and we help them stay out.”

Before moving to Brooklyn in January, Snowday got its start at the Entrepreneur Space, the food-and-business incubator run by the Queens Economic Development Corporation at 36-47 37th St. Long Island City-based Fortune Society, a non-profit staffed by ex-offenders who support former prisoners return to society, is one of Drive Change’s “re-entry partners” which recommends young people to Lexton’s program when there are openings.

Snowday took home the Vendy Cup and the People’s Choice award for its specialty, a grilled cheese sandwich with a touch of maple syrup. All ingredients are from upstate farms.

“We’re New York state’s first farm-to-truck,” Lexton said. Snowday, which captured the Rookie of the Year award at last year’s Vendy Awards, beat four other finalists, including Astoria’s Souvlaki Lady for the top prize.

Meanwhile, 2011 Vendy Cup winner and 2014 finalist Solber Pupusas will be featured at the fourth annual Viva La Comida food and music festival in Jackson Heights Saturday. The 82nd Street Partnership brings together some of the borough’s best street food vendors with area restaurants to showcase the ethnic cuisinesof Queens.

The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. between Roosevelt and Baxter avenues. Two 2014 Vendy Cup finalists, Mystik Masaala and Ricas Botanas, which sell freshly prepared churros, will also take part as will Roosevelt Avenue favorites such as El Sabroso de Aracataca and Picaditos Ecuatorianos.

Participating restaurants include Casa Rivera, Tulcino Bakery and Restaurant, Tacos Coatzingo NY and Las Americas Bakery. Musical performances by the Cumbia River Band, Los Aliens Electric Quartet and Sofia Ribiero, a multi-award winning jazz singer, will entertain.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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