At the Snack Therapy Café in the NeuroRehab and Balance Center on the Kettering Health Washington Township campus, buying a snack can change a life.
Since 2018, the Café has satisfied a felt need: helping hungry patients and staff feel a little more at home. But its impact doesn’t stop there. The center supports charitable organizations and causes, including helping a victim who was injured in the 2019 Dayton shooting. As the Café enters its fourth year, the team managing it continues to embody a small but mighty force to care for patients, staff, and the local community.
Before the café: A long, hungry wait
Before the Snack Therapy Café opened, staff and patients brought their own food to the center. The building had no vending machines. And patient therapy often lasts multiple hours. If staff, patients, or their families forgot to bring something to eat, they’d need to find a vending machine in Kettering Health Washington Township or go offsite to a local restaurant.
The center offered coffee and peanut-butter crackers to patients with diabetes. But for the other patients and the staff, the center faced a growing need.
“Family members of patients often commented that when their loved one was here for three hours of therapy, it was a long time to wait without an option to get something [to eat],” said Belinda Isaac, rehabilitation coordinator of the NeuroRehab and Balance Center.
The Christmas party that inspired the café
The turning point came when NeuroRehab and Balance Center team members volunteered to plan a Christmas party. Isaac and Susan Bledsoe, RN, nurse case manager of NeuroRehab, volunteered to help Dr. Sharon Merryman, a neurologist with Kettering Health, plan the annual Christmas party for residents of Grafton Oaks Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
During a planning meeting, Bledsoe, Isaac and Debra McConnell, the office supervisor at NeuroRehab, met Michelle Harrop, who worked at the Administrative Support Building on the Sycamore Medical Center campus. During the meeting, Harrop described a café she and others created on site. In the café, they stocked snacks and drinks for staff. And they donated the profits to support charitable opportunities.
Intrigued and inspired, Isaac, Bledsoe, and McConnell scheduled a time to meet Harrop to tour her café. And they saw what they needed for the NeuroRehab and Balance Center.
“She did an unbelievable job providing snacks, drinks, etc. on a very large scale,” said Isaac. “We thought if we could even mimic a small amount of her success, we could meet a need in our department.”
The Snack Therapy Café opens
In 2018, the Café began as a small table in the corner of a hallway. Despite its humble façade, the Café represented the team’s commitment to Kettering Health’s larger mission of whole-person care, even if that care meant providing access to a granola bar or bag of chips.
Using their own money, the team purchased sodas, bottled water, crackers, chips, and candy, stocking the shelves on the chance that staff and patients would use it.
It became a huge hit.
“Staff were buying up anything we stocked,” Isaac said, “And with over 40 staff, it was easy to make sales.”
She purchased more items to meet a growing demand. The Snack Therapy Café still has the same location and humble set-up, but it now stocks meals, sandwiches, hummus, mac ‘n’ cheese, tuna-salad kits, and more ways to help staff and patients keep hunger pangs away.
Using profits to give to the community
Since opening, the Café has had $600 in profit at any given time—and every cent has been given to charity.
After the Café’s first year, the team used a portion of the profits to help meet needs at Grafton Oaks for Christmas, buying toiletry supplies for each resident.
In 2020, the team donated money toward blankets for each resident.
The team has also donated to meet immediate needs in the community. When a patient couldn’t find a ride home from treatment, a staff member offered to pay for a cab. The Snack Therapy Café team stepped in and paid for it out of the Café’s profits.
Around Christmas 2020, a victim of the 2019 Dayton shooting sustained injuries and came in for treatment at the NeuroRehab and Balance Center. The team at the Café offered to cover the cost of the driving evaluation using café funds. This helped the victim get the treatment needed to begin to recover a sense of normalcy and independence.
As the Café’s third year ends, the team has been deciding how to use the funds. More opportunities and needs have arisen from the pandemic, so they’re making sure they can ensure every dollar meets a specific need in the community.
“It is important to understand that our staff at the NeuroRehab and Balance Center are very giving to the population we serve,” Isaac said. “The extra funds from the café just helps us to supplement small needs as they arise.”
“I am very happy [the Snack Therapy Café] has continued to meet staff needs,” Isaac said. “The profits continue to be a small way we can give back to meet [community] needs.”
In a few years, the Snack Therapy Café has contributed to meet needs throughout the community by satisfying an immediate need for patients, their families, and staff. It could be said that the Snack Therapy Café is, indeed, all that and a bag of potato chips.
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