Deborah Smith, owner of Green Pirate juice truck, shares her experience working on Sandy Relief efforts in the NYCFTA’s partnership with the NYC Mayor’s Office. We thank her for the time and energy that went into helping out.
There is a silver lining to every dark cloud, at least that is my point of view after spending the past month participating in direct relief work to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. My business is a mobile fresh squeezed juice and healthy food truck called Green Pirate. We have been temporarily shut out of our regular market due to water damage from the floods and on the days just after the storm, I had a tremendous amount of produce remaining that would need to be juiced or it would go bad. It seemed like an obvious choice to use it to help feed people who were stuck in places with no power, no hot water and many of whom had just lost their homes or watched their entire neighborhood get swept away. I was also in the unique position of owning two trucks both with fuel in them. I joined forces with my friends and neighbors and our missions began, first to Rockaway where we have friends and then to other areas in need. At first we brought clothes, blankets, flashlights and water. We quickly realized there was a tremendous need for hot food and for extra hands to help dig out basements so we began organizing.
Showing up in a neighborhood that has been devastated to provide a service to the people in need there is no small feat. It requires a resilience and a thick skin to smile through the long, sad faces, the scent of anger and despair, the resentment, the fear of what’s coming when it gets colder, and just plain shock and awe that everything these people once loved is now gone. I was raised by a firefighter and grew up around these kinds of situations (emergency fire radio in our house and my father was a first responder) so it gave me an enormous sense of pride to join the many brave workers who have been at the forefront of the recovery efforts. This was more than enough reward for my effort and it really felt good to be doing something. What I hadn’t realized was that this relief work would land me right back on the path of my original intention for my business.
A few weeks after the storm, my truck was accepted to participate in a sponsorship by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. Alongside my fellow food truckers in the NYCFTA, we were connected with sponsors and hired to bring 500 hot meals per day to specific designated areas where the need was great. In exchange we were compensated and given a team of wonderful dispatchers and social media coordinators to oversee the effort to its success. Suddenly I was being paid for the work I was already doing, but more so than that, in a partnership with the Mayor. In all of my (16) years living in NYC, I have never seen such a powerful working model as this: private sector directly funding a small business to provide an invaluable service- hot meals- to the people in need. On our second or third day out, it suddenly hit me: this was why I started my business in the first place. This was the goal. Community programs, health education and free food and juice, sponsored by companies that want to make a difference in this city, and facilitated by the one and only funky juice truck!
In 2006 when we first planted the seeds to open up a mobile fresh squeezed juice truck, we were on a mission. We wanted to find a way to spread the word about living a happier, healthier, sexier and more fun lifestyle, and how it didn’t have to be so terrible to eat healthy. We dreamed of turning the whole city onto drinking fresh squeezed juices and teaching them preventative health care practices, while blasting dance music out of the speakers on the roof of our mobile juice bar! We spent hours at a time envisioning all the ways that something like a mobile juice truck could reach more people and therefore spread the message further. We loved the idea that you didn’t need to already identify as “healthy” to have an interaction with the juice truck, because it would be parked on your corner in your neighborhood, playing your favorite song, your kid would start jumping around and the next thing you know you are laughing and thinking, “Ah what the heck, alright I’ll try a fresh juice.”
One year later Green Pirate hit the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan and set out to sail what would be a much rougher course then we ever imagined. Over the past 6 years we became inundated with all the stereotypical obstacles of a small business, including some particularly odd scenarios due to our industry’s “old world” practices that are still in place. Turf wars, ice cream mafia, extreme weather conditions and mastering a diesel engine were just a few of the things that never even crossed our minds as potential conflicts. After a while we did what any small business would do, focus on one thing: JUICE. That’s it, that’s all we do. We make juice. That’s what we’re good at, that’s what we do. It’s been a struggle all the way and we’re still out there, but I honestly think that if not for this storm and the shift of focus it brought into all of our lives, I may not have had the realization that this was my original dream.
Now that I have seen this program in action, I am committed to building it into my business model. Five days a week we sell juice to those who can afford it, and at least one day a week we are available to be sponsored, and you can send the fearless Juice Pirates into the city to provide delicious, nutritious, foods and fresh juices to people who need it – whether it be a school of children or a group of construction workers rebuilding a neighborhood or a community that does not have access to affordable healthy foods, we can go there and help to inspire, educate and feed them and hopefully brighten their day as well as turn them onto healthy, juicy living!
I have always believed that if we are not willing to be part of the solution, then we are part of the problem and it is our responsibility to help our fellow humans out if we can. I’m grateful to the Mayor’s Fund and all the people that made our partnership possible for helping me to remember that. #SandyUnites.