CLAYSBURG - One by one, empty reusable bags in hand, Sheetz employees strolled to Jody Wallace's tent Monday afternoon.
And one by one, they walked away with delicate-looking pine saplings poking out from their bags.
Wallace, self-described "creature teacher" with the Blair County Conservation District, stood at the center of a workday bazaar organized in honor of Earth Day at Sheetz's Claysburg Distribution Center.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Stephanie Swope of Hopewell spins the “Keeping Pollinators Safe”?wheel Monday at the Sheetz Distribution Center in Claysburg. Gardener David Heisler prepares to ask a question.
The celebration, part employee relaxation fair and part environmental teach-in, marked a series of "green" corporate programs - including a newly inaugurated workplace garden, a rarity in the area.
"People come through here, they listen to my spiel about why and how to plant a tree," Wallace said, her hands brown with dirt as she wrapped saplings in newspaper. "I get to talk to grown-ups today. I'm really happy."
Many people let Earth Day pass without notice, but for a company eager to promote its growing environmental policies, Monday's fair allowed support staff - the 1,500 employees who work at Sheetz stores - to observe the programs firsthand.
There were the Penn State Altoona students, accompanied by a 5-foot soda-bottle-shaped receptacle, whose recycling pilot program is under way at five Altoona Sheetz stores.
There were the gardening experts from the Penn State Extension, who spun a wheel marked "Keeping pollinators SAFE" to select random pollen-related lessons for passersby. Sheetz workers had shown so much interest in gardening, coordinator Jackie Forsht said, that extension workers decided Monday to plan an educational clinic.
"We are amazed at how many people showed up," Forsht said.
Sheetz employees, tasked with punching their Earth Day tickets at each booth, were rewarded with massages and free coffee.
"They're really pushing it now," Bakery Production Manager Ericka Deterline of Martinsburg said, referring to the company's interest in health and sustainability. "It was cool. I learned some things I really didn't know."
Sheetz has stressed environmental changes for the past three years, Employee Programs Manager Earl Springer said Monday. The company has mulled reforms including natural gas-powered trucks and expanded adopt-a-highway programs in the six states where it operates, he said.
Monday marked the first day to sign up for the company's "Shwellness Garden," a collection of 6-by-6-foot dirt plots where employees can grow flowers and vegetables and tend to them during work breaks. Located outside the $4 million "Shwellness Center" in Claysburg, the garden is set to be tilled in the next two weeks, said Marathon Health Strategic Account Manager Travis Eckels, whose company operates the center.
"We decided to start with 20 plots. Just to see, after today, how much interest there is," Eckels said.
By Monday afternoon, 38 employees had signed a list indicating interest in a plot. Sheetz will provide water, a tool shed and a few seed options; the work would be up to employees.
"It's a huge stress reliever for people who live in an apartment, who don't have the land to do it," Eckels said.
The company's Sustainability Team took some inspiration from REI, which operates a distribution center 15 miles down the road in Bedford Township. REI employees have had access to a similar communal garden for roughly four years, Employee Store Specialist Becky Claar said.
"We've set off a plot of land here. ... It's your responsibility to keep your garden watered," Claar said. Of the center's 300 or more employees, about 12 sign up for plots each year, she said.
Sheetz officers asked for information on the REI garden program to plan their own, Claar said.
"We gave them some information," she said. "I don't think anybody else does it yet."
Eckels said some Sheetz employees who signed up for the garden seemed to be on the fence, but the company can likely expect at least 25 plots in the end, he said. That interest could be seen in the crowds of employees who milled around the Earth Day Celebration grounds Monday.
Of course, a desire to "go green" wasn't the only draw for Sheetz workers.
"You get some free stuff. You get free smoothies and food," said Adam Russell of Hollidaysburg, a worker at the distribution center's cooler and freezer section. "I mean, why not?"
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.