Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice at Black Hills Special Services

The Black Hills Special Services Cooperative (BHSSC) mission is to build stronger communities by helping individuals and organizations reach their full potential. BHSSC accomplishes this by providing innovative and comprehensive services in education, training, and employment. These services are delivered through six organization divisions: Community and Family, Developmental Disabilities, Economic Development, Education and Workforce, Human Services, and Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE).

The Pierre office of BHSSC applied for and received the Healthier Vending and Snack Bar (HVSB) Grant in July 2016 through the South Dakota Department of Health. The goal of the HVSB grant is to implement policy, system, and environmental change to improve the food environment by making healthier choices more accessible, more appealing, and more 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.

Prior to applying for the grant, Pierre BHSSC had no vending machine or snack bar, just a small refrigerator for all staff to share. There was a vending machine in the past, but due to the vending company’s unwillingness to offer healthy options and inability to keep the machine well stocked, it was decided to get rid of the machine. Fresh fruit was available for a short period of time for purchase through the honor system. It was well received at first, but then stopped getting utilized.

When staff was informed about the grant opportunity there was a tremendous amount of support. With new staff joining the office the environment began to change and health became a higher priority than in years past. Leadership staff was also supportive and a small wellness team came together to plan for and create a healthy snack bar! The team conducted an employee survey and taste tests in an effort to determine the most popular products to offer. They also implemented a Healthier Vending & Snack Bar Policy to sustain their hard work!

Challenges:  The Pierre office only has fifteen staff so there were concerns about sustaining the snack bar. Without a vendor, BHSSC purchased items locally and at a higher cost. Another barrier was the concern of competition with a convenience store across the street from the office and the time it would take for staff to purchase and stock the snack bar.

Solutions: To address some of these issues, the wellness team surveyed the employees to find out which items they would purchase. Bulk purchasing helped to lower the cost and provided the ability to sell at a more reasonable price. Several taste tests were conducted to make sure staff was interested in the items that were offered and staff from other offices in the same building were invited to participate. BHSSC shares the first floor of their building with two other organizations, totaling twelve additional staff that can access the healthy snack bar.

A “credit” option was also made available in the event that staff didn’t have cash available. Note cards are used to track purchased items and then staff are sent an email notification regarding their “bill” for the month. This works well when employee’s children stop by the office and want a snack also! Products are offered at a reasonable price with a small markup so there are funds available to purchase items to replenish the snack bar.

Results: The snack bar was self-sustained within 9 months, eliminating the need to seek additional funding to continue operation! The snack bar has approximately 50% green, 30% yellow, and 20% red snack food and drink items. Green items include fresh fruit and vegetables that a traditional vendor may not have been able to offer. The snack bar also provides the ability to tailor purchases upon staff request and purchase a variety of sizes and containers that do not need to fit within the constraints of a vending machine.

“Having the healthy vending program in our office has helped me to make improved calorie choices. The clear green, yellow, and red labels with calories posted have helped me stop and think before making my choice.”  ~ Cruz Lotz, BHSSC Administrative Assistant

 

Future Plans: In the future the wellness team plans to continue to increase green choices and continue to survey employees to get their feedback on which items to offer. If there are extra funds, the team hopes to purchase upgrades for the employee breakroom based on feedback from employee surveying.

“We had a very positive experience with the grant opportunity.  I would encourage others to give this a try.  Although we take care of all aspects of the snack bar, this has not been a time burden for any one person.  A team approach definitely helps!”
~ Brooke Lusk, Human Services Division Director