"We can't keep up with sales. It's more than we had ever dreamed," said Austintown Schools Food Service Director Tascin Brooks.
She was referring to the overwhelming sales from the five vending machines her department purchased and put into service this year. The vending machines are owned by the Food Service Department, which controls what they are stocked with. Brooks said the department decided to offer healthy choices for students and the kids have really taken to the idea.
Since the vending machines were installed in January, the response from students has been tremendous. During a recent wrestling event at AMS, the machine had to be refilled twice. While it has been a success, it has been a challenge to school booster groups who make money by selling concession items during events.
"We want to support our booster groups, so we decided to shut down the vending machines when the boosters are selling items during an event," Brooks said.
That break may give the Food Service Department's newest employee a chance to get caught up. Brooks said she hired Stephanie Pavlich to handle the new computer software that will make the department and the vending machine operations run more efficiently.
"We are working with new software that will tell use when and what needs to be stocked," Brooks said.
Pavlich is programming the new system this week by entering the products that are in the vending machines. Using a cell phone technology, the new computer system will track what is being sold and what is needed to restock the machine.
"The person stocking it will know what is needed and how many," Pavlich said. "It takes the guess work out of it."
On top of the vending machines, the new software will also track the cafeteria and what is being sold there as well, creating financial reports that make Brooks' department almost automatic.
Brooks said it will also be a helpful tool for parents. She said often a parent will call and say they put money in their child's lunch fund for the week and it runs out early. The new system will allow parents to go online and see what their child has been buying. Brooks said some students buy extras and run their accounts dry without their parents' knowledge. She said she even had a young fellow buy lunch for the whole table, expending all of his weekly lunch allowance. The new computer software will reveal the answers for parents.
"It creates accountability and keeps controls in place so there is no waste," Brooks said.
She also noted the Dairy Board representatives came in and viewed the new vending machines. She got a $5,000 grant from the Dairy Board to help pay for the machines and the board representatives were so impressed they plan to put the success story on their own website.
Last week, Brooks set one more program in effect. She obtained some MP3 players as prizes for a few lucky students. Brooks said a few of the products will be labeled as winners and if a student purchases that marked product, they will be instant winners of the MP3 players. She said even though there are only a few who will win the players, everyone who uses the machines are winners.
"I am so excited to see that the students are excited about making healthy choices," she said.