We all know the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, but when Richard Kennedy tagged us on twitter and shared his initiative to actually make REAL food available in hospitals, we knew we had the reach out and find out more…

“I have to admit my original inspiration was in fact Jamie Oliver himself! Jamie posted on his Instagram account a photo of a supermarket in New Zealand that was promoting Free Fruit For Kids and I just thought that it was a brilliant idea. My wife and I spent two periods over the winter in our local hospital, South Tipp General, with Ollie, one of our little fellas. I must add that both our sons were born there and I’ve the utmost respect for all the staff that do such a wonderful job on a daily basis. However, one night at about 3am I couldn’t sleep. I was walking the corridors, hungry and checked out the vending machines. The crap that was in them (Coke Zero, 7Up Light, Curly Wurlys, Fruit Juice etc) infuriated me, particularly because the HSE (Health Service Executive) deemed them to be healthy choices just because they were under 150 calories! The vending machine has slogans on it about making the right choices “Be choice smart – choose under 150 calories”. I couldn’t believe the message our country’s health governing body was prepared to express within the hospital building; the one place a genuinely healthy food and strong positive message is needed.

I went back to the ward and wrote a big rant on my Facebook page.  It got a massive reaction and outpouring of similar feelings regarding the poor quality of food in hospital vending machines, and a lot of the comments were from nurses, doctors and cleaners working there. I thought talk is cheap, so I’m going to actually do something about it! I approached the hospital about tackling the products stocked in the machines but was informed that Coca Cola had the contract for all the HSE vending machines until 2020. Seriously, giving Coca Cola the contract to stock out hospital vending machines?!


So instead I took a different route and came up with having a basket of free fruit available to everyone in the hospital, patients, staff and visitors, in multiple locations in the hospital. After a change in hospital management, a new manager, was appointed and two months later the hospital came on board.

I wanted the first basket of fruit in the entrance foyer of the hospital in order to have the most impact and to set the tone. However, as space is at an absolute premium and at times there are people on hospital beds there, I agreed to let that idea pass. But the green light to put the fruit in the outpatients department was given and after another stint in paediatrics with our little fella it was also introduced there (and I will find a way be to somehow make it work in the foyer of the hospital!). 

After all, if a vending machine stocked with Coca Cola products is nestled there, why not a BEAUTIFUL basket of juicy nutritious fruit!

Whilst there have been some challenges along the way, and there’s lots to consider including the logistics of picking up the fruit and dropping it off to the hospital departments twice a week, it’s been a great journey! Plus, the local community is onboard with local businesses sponsoring boxes of apples from the local apple farm each week (I have a list of 27 business names lined up for this, one for each week for the rest of the year) and the local print shop, Sure Print, sponsoring the posters. 

My main objective with this project was all about resetting the message. Yes, the fruit is great but the message it sends out to the greater community is that small positive actions can lead to longterm lasting results.

Community + Unity = Positive Action”

Fancy tackling the vending machines in your local hospital? Check out our Sugar Smart initiative and scroll down to download some vending machine stickers of your own!

About Richard Kennedy

Richard Kennedy is the owner of Fitness Freak, a fitness and healthy food inspiring company. He is a motivational speaker, author of Freak Eats and a cook inspiring people to improve their lives by choosing healthy food alternatives via tastings, demonstrations and nutrition programmes. He runs two mini revolutions in his local town; Free Fruit For Kids in local shops and Free Fruit For ALL in his local South Tipp General Hospital. Baskets of Free Fruit, sponsored by local businesses, are available in 2 departments in the hospital administered by local secondary school transition year pupils. Richie is a former professional footballer. He is Dad to two mini-mes, Louis & Ollie, who inspire him to create a better community and set a positive example by taking action!