By Jacqui Newell
There is nothing pretty about vandalism. When it comes to graffiti, damage can extend beyond the (sometimes very high) costs of cleaning it up. More than just an eyesore, graffiti has come to symbolize neglect and can reduce how safe people feel in their neighbourhoods, as it can attract other types of crime. A Toronto-based charity, FoodShare, has learned this firsthand with relation to its fleet vehicle graphics.
Healthy food, healthy image
FoodShare uses a fleet of branded trucks to deliver healthy, culturally appropriate food
to needy people across the city. Unfortunately, vandals have covered its vehicles with spray paint over the years, tarnishing its image. With limited funds, the non-profit agency could not afford to dedicate the time and energy needed to clean up the problem on a continual basis.
“We had a number of our trucks defaced by graffiti,” says Tara Ramkhelawan, facilitator
for FoodShare’s ‘good food market’ program, which turns the vehicles into pop-up grocery stores in communities where locals would otherwise have difficulty buying fresh produce. “The trucks are essential to our day-to-day operations. For us to remove the graffiti would be very time-consuming and expensive. The families and communities we serve are our first priorities; replacing graphics on our trucks shouldn’t be.”
An easy target
After their deliveries, volunteers park the fleet of trucks in a lot next to the main FoodShare facility. This lot is commonly used as a walkway by the public, as it is not fenced in. At night, the area is unlit and unchecked by security personnel, making it particularly vulnerable to graffiti. As the perfect target for tagging, it has seen the problem continue to occur over many years.
Studies show graffiti is ideally removed within 24 hours of its occurrence. Otherwise, if it is left, it leads to an increased likelihood not only of more graffiti, but also of other crimes, such as theft and littering.
So, as FoodShare could not prioritize graffiti removal by itself, the problem festered and the damage extended beyond ruining the organization’s vehicle graphics; it meant the trucks no longer reflected the safe and clean image of the service they delivered.
A second chance
The only benefit of this highly visible problem was it attracted helpful attention.
“The graffiti was so noticeable, it caught my eye when a truck drove by me last spring,” says Sophie LaRochelle, marketing manager for 3M Canada’s commercial graphics division in London, Ont. “Recognizing the good work FoodShare does to help communities, we wanted to give back and help them rebuild their image.”
To demonstrate what could be done to protect FoodShare’s investment in fleet branding, 3M replaced the graphics on one of the trucks. This was fairly straightforward, as the organization already had its promotional graphic designs completed.
The newly printed graphics were protected by a specialty overlaminate film with graffiti-resistant properties, which was conformable and could thus be wrapped around the truck’s rivets. This would make it easier to remove most types of tagging in the future.
“When we revealed the new graphics to the team of volunteers who make FoodShare’s efforts possible, it reignited their commitment to the cause,” says Ramkhelawan. “It was as if there was a new sense of pride across the organization.”
Prevention is the best defence
With the specially laminated graphics, if the trucks were to be tagged again, most types of graffiti could be removed with compatible citrus-based cleaners and/or solvents, with as immediate as possible treatment recommended for the most effective results. This is similar to the use of anti-graffiti overlaminates on other flat surfaces prone to tagging in public spaces, such as mailboxes, street furniture and electric transformer boxes. Different overlamination products offer different levels of protection and conform to their application surfaces differently.
Of course, cleaning the graphics is not the same as finding and correcting the root cause of the issue, which means it can persist. FoodShare’s parking lot is the biggest risk to its fleet and, as such, the trucks remain vulnerable.
In fact, it only took one night before the trucks were spray-painted again.
“We weren’t surprised the graffiti took place again, but we were shocked it happened so soon after the new graphics went on!” says Ramkhelawan. “Fortunately, it only took two hours to clean and remove that graffiti, which is a fraction of the time is used to take.”
|HOW TO PREVENT GRAFFITI ON VEHICLES|
– Prevent temptation by displaying an intricate design, rather than one that is easier to deface.