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Vending More Than Chips & Sips

Robert Greenberg’s nonprofit helps people with disabilities

Published in 2023 Maryland Super Lawyers magazine

Robert Greenberg has had a lifelong involvement working with people with disabilities. His younger brother, Matt, has autism, so Greenberg and his parents were always involved in his brother’s programs—like The Arc Montgomery County.

“All the things that Matt’s been interested in, we’ve tried not only to help him get involved,” says Greenberg, “but also partake and be a part of that as well.”

As Matt started to age out of the educational system, Greenberg and his family looked for ways to keep him involved in structured activities. “Not even necessarily employment, but activities that could help him develop vocational skills,” he says.

“The educational system in Montgomery County is so good, especially for people with special needs, but then when they age out of it, it’s this huge thing,” he continues. “What’s next? For all these years, their time has been filled with enriching activities and school. You have to start to have an eye towards preparing someone with special needs to take the next step.”

That’s how Chips & Sips Vending came to fruition. Founded in 2014, the small vending organization was inspired by a Christmas gift Matt had received years earlier.

“One Christmas, my parents had gotten him a small vending machine for his room. Matt always loved stocking the machine and labeling it, and making sure that everything was taken care of,” Greenberg says.

The Greenbergs started with one machine at a local mechanic’s shop. Matt enjoyed checking in on it on a scheduled basis—making sure the machine was stocked, shopping for inventory, and managing and counting the money the machine brought in.

It went so well that the family thought others might benefit from it. “We saw it as a way to have a platform, to have special needs individuals participate and learn these skills they can use in their everyday life,” says Greenberg. “There’s a lot of crossover between the things we were doing to maintain the machines, and inventory, and everyday skills that we would use on a daily basis.”

Word-of-mouth was crucial to the program’s growth.

“My brother is involved in a community support program in Montgomery County, and he has friends there. It’s a great community of people. … That was really where the exposure to Chips & Sips came from, just being involved in that program,” says Greenberg. “Talking to people in the program, it was like, ‘OK, maybe this specific individual who has these skills would be interested in doing this, or it could be a good opportunity for them.’ And that’s how it grew.”

He credits his parents, Michael and Mary, with Chips & Sips’ success, which had around 10 participants before COVID-19. “My dad took a course, and made it his project to learn how to fix vending machines,” Greenberg says. “My mom is just as involved. My parents invested a ton of time in the nitty-gritty, like getting a machine into an office space, and things like that.”

While Matt has continued to be an active participant in Chips & Sips, Greenberg has been brainstorming ways to get the operation’s participants and machines back up to pre-COVID numbers. “As there are people who are interested and will benefit from being involved, we do our best to incorporate them,” he says. “[We now have] the ability to go back out to businesses and pitch, which, we couldn’t for a few years.”

Still, Greenberg doesn’t like to call Chips & Sips Vending a business, as the family isn’t making any money off of the venture.

“It’s a way to give young adults with special needs an opportunity to do something they enjoy, and they are learning these skills in the process,” he says. “To see them receive a paycheck—you could tell that was something they were really proud of. And that’s very gratifying.”

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