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Viewpoint: Wilmington Green Box tackles two problems at once

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Jason Aviles
Guest Columnist

There are pockets of downtown Wilmington where two things are so scarce they’re practically non-existent: Entrepreneurial job opportunities and nutritious meals.

But what if there was one simple way to address both of those issues?

That’s been the unique vision of Wilmington Green Box, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program that provides at-risk teens with entrepreneurial jobs while supplying urban communities with access to fresh produce and healthy goods.

More than 65 percent of Wilmington residents live more than a half-mile away from the nearest grocery store. Moreover, crime in the city continues to far outpace the national average, with data on the city’s website showing a 22 percent increase in shootings and homicides in 2017. In our experience, at-risk teens have found it difficult to escape the negative influences of their neighborhood.

Community retail outlets for healthy goods and fresh produce are virtually non-existent, nutrition education is scarce and many residents lack the awareness and knowledge to successfully integrate healthy foods into their households.

We call these areas “food deserts,” and they’re why we launched Green Box in May 2016.

The first phase of our program was a creative seasonal mobile-push cart. The second phase, launched last summer, introduced a seasonal public green space in combination with a unique outdoor kiosk structure. Our mobile push cart traveled throughout Wilmington providing community residents and working professionals with direct access to locally sourced, affordable, plant-based healthy goods and produce.

Our outdoor kiosk structure offered a public green space, free WiFi, seating, a stage for local entertainment events, and a more stable and consistent outlet of healthy goods and produce for both community residents and working professionals.

So far, we’ve trained and hired a total of four local, at-risk teens in order to offer an escape from their crime-ridden neighborhoods, while simultaneously equipping them with the skills and tools to be an asset
to their communities.

Wilmington Green Box is on the verge of exciting growth opportunities this summer, when we introduce our own line of bottled cold-pressed juices in partnership with the Big Fish Restaurant Group, which will sell them out of their new Harvest House coffeehouse.

During two summer seasons (2016 and 2017), we’ve supported eight local food companies by purchasing over 2,000 goods from them, and served over 1,000 people, the majority of them African-Americans who live in the local Wilmington community.

We have a proven model that continues to grow and work effectively. Up until this point, we have contributed our own personal funds to get the program off the ground and have received minimal funding assistance.

This is the year we’ll be focusing on making our program even better through fund-raising and going after grants. Our goals this year include training and employing another six at-risk teens, providing them with a new mobile push cart, new equipment, start-up inventory and supplies. These are the essentials we need to continue our growth and sustain our program.

This summer, we will continue turning Wilmington’s “food deserts” green, because we believe good nutrition and simple job opportunities are not luxury items in life. They’re simple basics that should be a starting point for success.

Wilmington Green Box was one of the winning ideas at the Reinventing Delaware series, an idea crowdsourcing event developed by the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation. Jason Aviles is the co-founder of Wilmington Green Box. For information on how to get involved or support the Wilmington Green-Box through USEED crowdfunding and other efforts, contact Jason at wilmingtongreenbox@gmail.com.

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