MIAMI -- Miami-Dade high schoolers will have the choice of bypassing long lunch lines for the speed and convenience of vending machines beginning this fall.
The nation's fourth-largest school district's systemwide deployment of Star Food machines in its 45 high schools follows a pilot that ran from March to May. During the eight-week trial, 99,000 students purchased 58,000 meals from the machines, which are supplied by Ft. Lauderdale-based VE South.
"Kids are tech-savvy and we were looking for a new option -- something to attract their attention and assure we delivered fresh healthy meals," said Penny Parham, administrative director of Miami-Dade Public Schools Department of Food and Nutrition. "This has the 'cool' factor."
The school district has also partnered with local celebrity chefs and farmers to enhance the appeal of meals approved by the Department of Agriculture. A grant from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work, an initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control through the Miami-Dade Health Department, is helping to get the program off the ground.
To purchase a meal selection from a Star Food machine, students enter their IDs and birth dates, which are linked to their accounts. The payment system's cashless capability allows vended meals to be sold at full or reduced prices; they are delivered free to students enrolled in the USDA's reimbursable meal program. The transaction takes about 20 seconds.
The machines have a 96-meal capacity and are generally restocked once during a lunch period, with many schools having two or three periods a day.
Star Food machines are in 100 schools across the country, and Miami-Dade is the first district to deploy them systemwide. VE South, a leading full-line vending distributor, rolled out the food venders four years ago. | SEE STORY