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Healthier Vending Options in the Wicoicaga Otipi Community Center

Wicoicaga Otipi Community Center is located in Flandreau, SD on the Flandreau Santee Sioux Reservation. The Community Center has four departments: Recreation Program, Dakota Language Program, Education Program and the Tribal Day Care. The three programs work together on many events, such as Tiwahe “Family” Night, Basketball Open Gym, Teen Night, Lock-In’s, Powwows, Basketball Tournaments, Mother’s Day Potluck, Halloween and Easter Celebrations plus many more. Most events are open to the public, but the main participants are children from the age of newborns to 17 years.

The Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (FSST) Community Center was one of the 2017-2018 Healthier Vending & Snack Bar (HVSB) Grantees, a program through the South Dakota Department of Health.

The goal of the HVSB project is to implement policy, system, and environmental change to improve the food environment in worksites by making healthier choices more accessible, appealing, and affordable. The project requires snack food and drink items be categorized using the green, yellow, and red traffic light system known as the Munch Code and to make the calorie content for all items visible at the point of purchase.

At the start of the project, the Community Center offered two vending machines with the typical offerings; pop, chips, candy bars, and pastries. The vending machines are available to all four departments of the Community Center, which is about 20 employees. The vending machines are also used by program participants and the public including on average 20 children daily through the After-School Program. The children in the After-School Program were impacted the most by the HVSB project.

“It was cool to see the children willingly choose a healthier snack over a bag of Doritos. I feel this generation can be educated about nutrition and use that knowledge to make healthier, more informed decisions. Growing up for me, we weren’t educated or told not to eat those kinds of snacks. We can make that change.”

–Sylvia Roy, FSST Recreation Coordinator


One of the biggest challenges was working with other departments in the building to implement a Healthier Vending policy, an unprecedented request. The Community Center is one of many buildings under the FSST. Others include the Police Station/Fitness Center, Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Tribal Office, Clinic, Elderly Complex, First American Mart, Tribal Courts, and the Housing Office. All entities fall under the FSST, so all policies must be approved system wide.

 Another challenge was ensuring the healthier products were purchased once placed in the vending machines.


The Healthier Vending policy is currently pending approval by the FSST. However, staff feel even without a policy, the changes will remain due to the positive reception by the children, elderly and the public.

Flyer showcasing the FSST taste testing opportunity

The Community Center ensured sales of the healthier food and drink options by offering taste tests and creating an incentive program. The taste test was important to allow adults and kids the chance to try healthier options before purchasing. Many employees from the other departments and buildings joined in on the fun, which staff believe enticed the public to consider healthy snacks as a realistic and delicious option. Adults are often hesitant to use their money for a product they don’t know if they will like and kids can be hesitant to try new foods. Most that attended mentioned they weren’t aware of the healthy options before the taste test.

The incentive program was a huge hit with the kids! The incentive program kept track of participants’ choices during a set period. Participants of any Recreation Program had the opportunity to buy one snack and/or drink during each program. They rolled an over-sized die per purchase of a green or yellow item. This was recorded as their “points” for the purchase. The highest amount of “points” was awarded sneakers. The top six participants received a subway gift card. Every participant received a ‘FSST REC’ jump rope. The incentive program ran twice, since the children were so hyped to participate. Staff noted it was fun to see the kids so anxious about picking healthy snacks. Many of the children preferred the snacks over candy bars, even if they used their one choice for the day.

“The winner of the incentive program was an underprivileged child who received Jordan sneakers. It was fun to see his face when he won!”

–Sylvia Roy, FSST Recreation Coordinator


A big success was changing the advertising wrap on the outside of the pop vending machine from a Coca-Cola advertisement to Aquafina. Food marketing has a powerful impact on children. Positive, healthy advertising is important to reinforce healthy decision making.

Before and after pictures of the vending machines

By the end of the project, the percentage of green items in both vending machines increased from 4.9% to 17.9%, while the percentage of red items decreased from 85.4% to 61.5%. This shift was positive and statistically significant.

The HVSB project offers kids and adults the opportunity to purchase healthier food options, but also has shown a noteworthy impact on their nutrition knowledge through the Munch Code. The traffic-light system is an easy and quick way to educate individuals no matter their age or education level. Many people in the community were interested in learning about the Healthier Vending and Snack Bar Standards which determine if a product is green, yellow or red. The standards focus solely on information found on the Nutrition Fact label and was a great education opportunity to understand the nutrients, both good and bad, that make up foods. Especially highly processed, convenience foods often found in a vending machine. The Community Center employees heard many community members say they would take this information and apply it when shopping at the grocery store.

The Community Center plans to continue to educate and encourage the community to make healthy eating choices and plans to have a “Healthier Lifestyle Challenge” that will incorporate Munch Code.

“Your body deserves the best nutrition possible. Make good choices for your mind, body, and spirit.”

–Sylvia Roy, FSST Recreation Coordinator