Enlighten Me: Wilmington Green Box provides youth jobs, fresh products to food desert areas

10 June 2016 WDDE

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The Wilmington Green Box is a new initiative created by friends and business partners John Naughton and Jason Aviles to provide areas of Wilmington classified as food deserts with healthier options this summer, while at the same time employing youth who might otherwise be have little to do.

Last year, the duo created Artist Ave Station together, a space for artists to work and display art during First Friday events on North Tatnall.

They hope to build on that success with Wilmington Green Box, which is already a finalist in ArtPlace America’s 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund grant process to expand the project further.

Jason Aviles is Project Manager & Co-founder of the Wilmington Green Box.

His business partner, John Naughton, Co-founder & Assistant Project Manager, found some old 1940s ice boxes initially used in old Victorian homes to keep food items cool, and that are now serving a greater purpose: holding local healthy items for youth to sell on street corners this summer.

“Hey John, where exactly did we find this ice box?” Aviles asked.

“In the basement,” Naughton said. “It was a guy who was cleaning out a house. He was just going to trash everything. I like vintage stuff, I go in there and get old doors, old shutters. And they had two ice boxes. I didn’t know at the time what I was going to use them for, but I just bought both of them. And it so happened it worked out.”

To go along with its name of “Green Box,” the partners wanted the box to not only be green in color, but also environmentally friendly.

“It requires no gas, electricity, you just keep some dry ice and ice packs in there and it keeps everything cool,” Aviles said.

They’re applying for the ArtPlace America grant, and are one of 80 finalists across the country. Their original idea: take shipping containers, gut, renovate and modernize them to house produce stores that could be placed on abandoned lots.

But after meeting with others, like the developers Buccini and Pollin Group, that idea morphed – and funding came – for the current concept, a cart serving fresh products.

While BPG provided funding to create the cart, Downtown Visions provided a grant from local bank Comenity to help pay for two youth to work 20 hours/week over a 10-week period to staff the cart.

Will Minster, Director of Business Development with Downtown Visions, says he’s been really impressed with Aviles’ work and will continue searching for funding to support initiatives like the Wilmington Green Box.

“Big banks and so forth for community reinvestment really like is to invest in things that directly affect underprivileged youth or people of low to moderate income,” Minster said. “So the food desert idea of bringing healthy food alternatives to people, especially those people of low to moderate income absolutely makes sense.”

The orange areas of the map represent food deserts in or surrounding Wilmington in 2015.


  Food deserts are defined by the USDA as parts of the country lacking in fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.

Aviles says many areas of Wilmington qualify as food deserts, as they’re more than 0.5 miles away from healthy food suppliers.

We’ve seen that the people who live in this community literally have no access to some healthy food alternatives. Like, you couldn’t buy a bunch of kale if you wanted to without a car.


Aviles, Naughton and others have invested a lot of time and energy into the Green Box.

Last week, I had a chance to see some of the final touches being put on the box before it was unveiled during a Creative District First Friday.

They started out unloading the cart at Artist Ave – the location of Wilmington Placemakers, Inc. – the organization that Wilmington Green Box is now a part of.

They then wheeled it down the block for local artist Crae Washington of Smashed Label to add some graphics to.

Local artist Crae Washington paints the side of the Wilmington Green Box on Thursday June 2nd.


Crae was in the process of creating a mural, and took some time out to work on the sides of the cart. He explains his process as he starts to paste large cutouts of youth figures to the sides of the cart.

“It’s basically like a paste up of the figure so I don’t have to sit and draw it. I already drew it, scanned it and printed it out,” Washington said. “Now I’m going to paint right over top of it. Save some time for these guys.”

And each figure – a girl on one side, and a boy on the other side of the cart – are pictured consuming products that will be sold from the cart itself.

Yeah, I heard they’ve got fresh fruit natural popsicles, that’s what she has. He’s got a smoothie, maybe a lemonade,” Washington said.

To start out with, there will be products from four different local vendors included in the cart. Fresh-pressed juices from Awakened Kitchen, fruit infused pops from Summer J Artisan ice pops , fruit salads from Yummy Tummy and lemonades from Myster Lemonade.

“Wilmington Green Box really put an emphasis on hand-selecting our health good providers,” Aviles aid. “We wanted to make sure that we were supporting the people who were also engaging with the community.”

Queon Jackson, owner of Summer J artisan ice pops, dropped off a box of ice pops for the cart.

“As you see as we open up this box right here, this one is the strawberry lemonade,” Jackson said. “And we have them in three different flavors: this one is strawberry lemonade. And these are our minis.”

Queon and his wife are licensed in the state of Delaware to make the ice pops themselves at the Commercial Kitchen of Delaware State, where they manufacture and produce the products.

“We started this company simply because we had a family member that was dealing with a health crisis, and my wife and I wanted to create something that wasn’t just healthy for our family but was healthy to other family members in other communities,” he said.

The company is named after the couple’s daughter, Summer Jackson. They use locally sourced fruit, with all natural ingredients – and Queon says they’ll be introducing spa ice pops and pops infused with adult beverages soon.

In selecting the products – which Aviles says are all 100% plant-based vegan, non GMO and dairy free – taste was a key factor.

“That’s the perfect harmony, that’s how you really meet the community where it is,” Aviles said. “And the Wilmington community doesn’t quite have a culture of wellness and health here, so we understand that we’re introducing new concepts of eating and a new lifestyle of living where you’re embracing more healthier alternative options, but it can be very difficult if it’s not appealing to the palate.”

Aviles and Naughton are hopeful about the success of Wilmington Green Box, and even have a second old ice box – one that Naughton purchased along with the one they’re using now  – that they’d like to put to use. And, of course, they’d eventually like to expand even further.

“We’re excited. This is a right step in the right direction,” Aviles said. “Ultimately we want to scale this project up at some point and be able to have an actual physical structure that could take what we’re doing here through this cart and scaling it at a higher magnitude, hiring more youth, getting more healthy food providers, and again: just kind of supporting that local business initiative and getting people to invest back into this Creative District.”

Aviles says that for the first two weeks the cart is on the streets this summer, they’ll test different areas.

“We’ve been spending time throughout the week between the hours of 11 and 2 just scoping out the traffic on Market street seeing which corners get the most traffic, the most energy,” he said. “We have some really good ideas but you don’t know until you’re there and set up and see the response it gets.”

Aviles wants the focus to remain on the youth: and having the two young people employed work together to learn teamwork. The goal is to have them start working later this month.

“Most of all, giving these youth in the community jobs and giving them the experience with the entrepreneurship skills so they then can learn how to develop a structure behind a product or service that they may want to offer in the near future,” he said.