Grilled cheese bus supports community development

The bus, parked across from the Briggs Avenue Community Garden, served hot tomato soup and various styles of grilled cheese sandwiches. (Staff photo by Zakiya Scott)

By Zakiya Scott
UNC Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE

The Grilled Cheese Bus is not just another food truck…it’s much more than that.

It made its debut Saturday, just across from the Briggs Avenue Community Garden. The red and teal converted school bus served its original, pimento and pimento with bacon sandwiches, grilled until they were golden and gooey. The bus serves as a non-profit youth job training and community organizing project, headed by co-directors Elena Everett and Dagny Brown.

The creative idea of the Grilled Cheese Bus is credited to Everett, who has a 10-year history in youth and student organizing for social justice issues. Most recently, she’s been working with the Wake County school district issue of re-segregation.

“I really have a commitment to working with students from low-income communities who are most impacted by social injustice,” Everett said.

Often times social justice youth organizing work is difficult to fund, Brown said.  That’s where the bus comes into play. While it will help students engage in positive activity and bring in an income, the bus will potentially be able to generate revenue to support such youth organizations in and around the Durham community.

Once the bus begins operating, Brown said the team of youth in the advisory committee will vote on where the money will be dispersed. The committee is currently composed of members of the North Carolina DREAM Team and North Carolina Heroes Emerging Among Teens (NC H.E.A.T), the two main organizations that the bus actively works with.

“We focus on empowerment of the youth,” said Monseratt Alvarez, a freshman at Meredith College involved with NC HEAT. “The Grilled Cheese Bus allows youth to become economically independent from their parents, because often times we see that a lot of them live in single-parent homes or both of their parents are working.”

Brown deals with the menu, fundraising and basic maintenance to get the bus up and running, she said. Their focus now is on raising funds for start-up capital to purchase the bus, kitchen equipment and other things to get the bus riding on the roads.

“We’re a non-profit and we really want to serve the community,” said Brown. “We want to do this in a way that funds community efforts.”

Brown said they are constantly fundraising. So far, their efforts have earned the bus thousands of dollars from community support in Durham, the Triangle area and even nationwide, but it has been a challenge.

The beginning of April sparked the bus’s Kickstarter campaign, where they have 30 days to raise $8,000.

With only four days in, Brown said they’ve had a strong start.

Co-directors Elena Everett and Dagny Brown inside The Grilled Cheese Bus. (Staff photo by Zakiya Scott)

“We’re almost halfway there,” she said. “But these things typically lose momentum in the middle, and if we don’t raise that $8,000, then we don’t get any of the funds that have been pledged.”

Donors do more than just pledge; there’s a prize in it for them too. For example, those that pledge on the $25 level receive a $25 coupon book to The Grilled Cheese Bus. Donors that pledge on the $100 level get a signed copy of a book by Tim Tyson or Paul Ortiz.

Students like Alvarez, who are involved in the advisory committee, are helping to get the bus off the ground.

“They’re doing everything from fundraising to menu strategizing to getting the word out,” said Brown.

In the summer, Brown and Everett plan to launch their youth internship program, where youth will become involved inside and outside of the kitchen. Participants will learn solid job skills while earning a stipend. Everett hopes that the knowledge they gain in marketing, especially with social media, will dovetail into organizing outreach events in the community.

“They’re going to be involved in things in the office end too,” Brown said. “So, learning basic administrative skills, how to read a spreadsheet, and how to become financially literate.”

Applications will soon be available on the project’s website. Everett and Brown seek a diverse group of students who are engaged in some sort of positive social change work in the community. Everett hopes that this summer program will allow them to branch out to other organizations in the Durham community like SeeSaw Studio, SpiritHouse and SEEDS.

For information on the dates, times and locations of when and where the Grilled Cheese Bus is operating, visit their Facebook or Twitter page. To donate to the project go to

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