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L-R: Charlie Hasty, Martin Miskell, Angel Lynch, Zach George, Sara Coombs, and Mary Guldenschuh
Snack Pack: Wegmans, The Arc Team Up for Healthier Vending
Mount Morris, NY November 23, 2015 – Upwardly mobile community employment for people with disabilities. Healthier snack choices for Livingston and Wyoming Counties. A business partnership that brings together the private, government, and not-for-profit sectors.
Hilltop Vending is all that — and a bag of chips.
As the latest venture of The Arc of Livingston-Wyoming's vocational rehabilitation program, Hilltop Vending is satisfying the cravings of health-conscious snackers via machines at several area locations, thanks in part to a grant from Wegmans Food Markets.
"The Arc and Wegmans are really becoming a unified team to accomplish some very important 'Eat Well, Live Well' initiatives and community projects in this area," says Geneseo Wegmans Store Manager Charlie Hasty.
Hasty's store recently awarded The Arc $5,000 to purchase a vending machine located on the basement level of the Livingston County Government Center in Geneseo. The machine is Hilltop Vending's seventh since it began in early 2015.
Hilltop vending workers, including individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, partner with Wegmans personnel to keep the machines stocked with chips, snack bars, sodas and other food and drink options that meet the National Automatic Merchandising Association's "FitPick" guidelines for lowered calories, fat, and sugar.
"We love working with The Arc, period," says Wegmans Community Relations Specialist Angel Lynch. "But this one is an especially worthy project. We work closely every week to order items that are healthy and taste good, and we love being part of something that creates jobs. This is what Wegmans is all about."
So far, Hilltop Vending has brought jobs to two individuals with disabilities, who — along with an Arc job coach — handle all aspects of pick-up, delivery, and filling of each machine's contents. They also track what sells and what doesn't, in an effort to constantly improve Hilltop Vending sales and enhance their own marketability.
"I used to work in the Hilltop work center, but this is a better fit for me," says Hilltop Vending worker Zach George. "Someday, I would like to have my own vending company, so this is good experience."
Since January, Hilltop Vending has turned a profit of about $13,000, according to Job Coach Sara Coombs.
Machines located at The Arc's own Hilltop Industries work center have been the most profitable thus far, but their presence in government buildings is on the rise. There is another machine at the Livingston County Health Department in Mount Morris, and talk of expanding to additional locations.
Traffic is steady at the new Government Center machine, according Livingston County Workforce Development’s Mary Guldenschuh.
"We operate workshops for the full day, and our customers didn't have access to the employee-only lounge," she says. "We wanted to give them an option for healthy snacks while they were here for that extended day."
What keeps customers coming back? According to Coombs, most are pretty quick to adapt to healthier versions of their favorite snacks.
"Unsweetened pure leaf tea, Diet Coke, and some of the protein and breakfast bars are popular," she says. "And, of course, so are the chips."