Local vendor gives students healthier options

David Carroll, owner, East Coast Organic Vending displays some healthy treats.

By Jon

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- Take a look around and there is little doubt that we live in a "fast food" society, but there are new signs the health food craze is now catching on with a younger generation.

For years now our on-the-go lives coupled with a myriad of unhealthy choices and high fat diets have posed great risk to both adults and children -- namely health concerns like obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The problem is getting worse, and according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control nearly one-third of children are overweight and at risk of diabetes.

After he was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening health condition several years ago, Mount Pleasant businessman David Carroll wanted a healthier lifestyle for himself and his family -- motivation he is using to make a positive change in future generations.

"I had cancer and actually got into eating healthy and looking at labels," Carroll said. "I happened upon a website for another company out of California and said, 'wow this is a great idea.'"

That idea -- vending machines that offer healthy snack alternatives like organic chips, cookies, and juices.

After setting up shop in several area businesses, Carroll reached out to administrators at the Charleston County School District.

"We put a machine over at Cario Middle School, and the kids loved it," Carroll said. "So, I began to focus more on schools."

CCSD was quick to jump on the healthy eating trend back in the late 90s and early 2000s - now partnering with MUSC to collect health information while providing students with healthy alternatives to brown bag staples like potato chips and sugary soda drinks.

It was a match made in health-food heaven.

Walter Campbell, Director of Nutrition and Food Service for Charleston County Schools says for years administrators have been focused on revamping school lunch menus to incorporate healthy fruits and vegetables grown locally and healthier alternatives. {}{}

"We have focused on purchasing as much South Carolina grown fruits and veggies," Campbell said. "We have purchased SC grown collard, peaches, apples, sweet potatoes, zucchini, squash, lettuce, strawberries and even kiwi."

The enemy is those high calorie, sugar saturated snacks often found in vending machines.

According to Carroll's website, as much 30 percent of student daily nutritional value comes from vending machine snacks. It's a disturbing trend he says needs to be addressed.

That's where he and East Coast Organic Vending made a pitch and asked individual principals for a chance to set up inside their schools. Carroll was instructed to contact each principal directly about placing his healthy option machines inside the schools. The idea was met with an overwhelming positive response.

In 2010, several schools began partnering with East Coast Organic Vendors, now the brightly colored machines can be found in over 60 percent of Charleston County Schools.

"The kids love the machines and the parents love the idea because they know if they give their kids a couple of bucks to use that vending machine, that they are going to get healthy products," Carroll said.

"They are learning about proper nutrition and reading labels in the schools, so it's a perfect fit," Carroll said.{} "If you can teach a generation as they are growing up, chances are you are improving the system if you can get everyone to eat healthy one at a time."

District food services does not oversee vending machines, however Campbell says "each individual school has control of their own vending machines and use different vendors.{} A district-wide policy also mandates that all vending machine beverages be diet sodas or beverages with healthy sugar substitutes (zero calorie)."

East Coast Organic offers a wide variety of healthy snacks, nuts, juices, waters, and dairy products designed to be healthy alternatives to potato chips, candy and sodas.

And to help spread the word, Carroll and his team even attach a few dollar bills to the back of a few snacks with a note that reads "It pays to eat healthy!"

Whether it's the draw of winning a free buck or the healthy choices, Carroll says the healthy snack movement is already taking hold.

Students at Academic Magnet even voted on having the healthy options machines in their school over the traditional candy and chip dispensers.{}{}

While Carroll admits not all items are organic, he says he is just trying to get the healthiest items to kids while keeping prices down.

You can help make a difference

Parents, teachers, or community members that would like to learn more about healthy vending machines or would like to see one in their school or work place can reach Carroll by email at

To place a vending machine in a school, parents, teachers, students or staff members are urged to contact Carroll with the following information so he can introduce the healthy vending machine programs. The name of the school principal, head of the parent teacher's association, food service manager or human resources contact (including a phone number or email).

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