Lebanon resident Ashton Gilbert recently solved a bit of a box problem for his mom, invented a way to make money for himself, kept his dad from getting grumpy and now offers a service for many online shoppers knee-deep in bulky empty boxes.

UnBoxed is his company and was born out of necessity, said his mom, Ashley York. She runs a busy décor and gifts business out of her Lebanon home and found herself smothered in cardboard on a more than regular basis.

“I was having the battle of the boxes with my husband and something had to give,” York said.

What “gave” was the seed of an idea for a small business her son Ashton could start that would provide a much-needed service of box pickup during these times when people opt for online purchase and delivery.

Gilbert started UnBoxed about a month ago and already has nearly 10 regular customers who depend on him to haul away their boxes.

A lot of York’s friends order from Amazon and she quipped a couple months ago Amazon could make a lot of money if it charged to pick up their empty boxes. Customers count on him to pick up their boxes twice a month (usually on Tuesdays) at a cost of $25 for broken down boxes or $35 twice a month if Gilbert breaks them down. He and his mom take them to the Lebanon recycling center.

Ashley Seibers is already a loyal customer. She said she has known Gilbert a couple of years.

“I’ve been a customer for just over a month now,” said Seibers, who lives in Lebanon. “Ashton comes twice a month to pick up my boxes. He’s such a great young man. We break them down and he comes and is so timely. He’s never missed a pickup.”

Seibers works for the state’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

“Any way I can see a way to support individuals with disabilities I am all in to empower them and give them employment options,” she said.

Even as a closet Amazon buyer?

“Well, I guess you could say that I am an avid Amazon orderer,” said Seibers. “Especially during the pandemic and we are about to be a foster family and have been ordering a ton.”

She said anyone who knows Gilbert is behind him 100 percent.

“He’s just incredible, and, it sure helps us out and eliminates a trip to the recycle center. I hope Ashton’s business continues to grow, it’s a great service to the community,” she said.

The business model

This new business is small but mighty, and quite a big deal to Gilbert, 20. He is a special young man who is on the autism spectrum and also has some intellectual disabilities. He graduated from Lebanon High with a special needs diploma and has since wanted to become more independent with his own spending money and with a focus on an endeavor.

York raised him and his sister as a single mom for nine years and said she noticed something was a bit different when her son was quite young. She said it took a long time to get an official diagnosis of autism.

“He’s a unique case,” she said “He’s not cut and dried. We all have a preconceived notion about what autism is. Most people think “Rain Man” or the non-verbals. It is a spectrum. Cases like Ashton’s are lesser known.”

Gilbert sometimes doesn’t look people in the eye, and if someone jokes with him, he might get a tad offended. He takes everything literally. However, he is extremely social, ran for student council in seventh grade — and won — and was a talented wrestler in school.

York said her son’s intellectual ability is about ages 8-12, and his maturity level has grown by leaps and bounds the past two years.

“He very punctual, polite and eager to provide a box pickup service for his customers,” said York.

Independent steps

Gilbert’s home is just down the road from his family. He’s one of six siblings and during lockdown and home school Zoom calls it was difficult for him to understand that his video games made too much noise at critical times.

“We first got him a camper and parked it in the driveway, so he could do his thing and have his own space,” said York. “Then it so happened a house came up for sale really close and it was just a perfect fit for him.”

Gilbert lives pretty much independently a short jog down the street from the family. He uses the microwave to make “mostly the same exact meals every day,” and loves his cat named Anibene. Gilbert is a heavy-duty Star Wars fan and can begin and end many conversations with thoughts about the movie franchise.

His mom takes care of the social media part of the business and is his “business chauffer,” but Gilbert does all the heavy lifting (literally) and all other aspects of his business.

This is a huge milestone for Gilbert.

“Education is and was an extreme battle and struggle,” York said. “Couple autism with an intellectual disability, it was frustrating. But he had a lot of people who believed in him and are patient with him.”

It took quite a while for Gilbert’s size to catch up with his age, adding another notch of worry for his parents.

And while Gilbert is part of ECF CHOICES (The Employment and Community First CHOICES) program that offers services to help people become employed and live as independently as possible in the community, the pandemic and accompanying lockdown of services put a damper on his case being picked up thoroughly. So, Unboxed is the perfect job for now. And, maybe for quite some time if the business keeps progressing.

Gilbert said he really likes owning his own business.

“Everyone is really nice to me,” he said. “I like to work and I like helping people with recycling cardboard.”

When asked about advice he has for new entrepreneurs, he said, “You have to be able to wake up on time, and talk to people.

Already, he’s made about $200. What’s he doing with this flush of cash?

“My mom is helping me learn to budget money for household expenses, but I am wanting to save for a VR and PS5 video game system,” he said.

But, when one customer paid him in cash, he admits he splurged on some ice cream.