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Brain food: School vending machine offers books

CHRIS DORST |Saturday Gazette-Mail
Bonnie McClung hopes the book-filled vending machine at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School will give students more a reason to read, while also giving them a sense of ownership.

Bonnie McClung watches a vending machine every morning at Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School, hoping the students make the right choice.

There are no Cheetos in there. No candy bars. There are a few healthy snacks, but mostly, there are books.

“It’s always interesting watching them come up with their money and decide, ‘OK what am I going to do? Am I going to get a book or am I going to get a snack?” said McClung, who helps lead the gifted program at the school. “When they hear that thud of a book dropping down and put their hand in there to get it, it’s just a joy to watch.”

McClung — who taught for more than 30 years and became a reading specialist after retirement — got the idea for a book-filled vending machine in the 1990s after finding out a friend of a friend worked for a company that produced the machines.

“It just hit me,” she said. “Kids love to use vending machines, and they were for everything else but I didn’t see any books in them.”

The first machine, which sat in a hallway at the now-closed Chandler Elementary, put out thousands of books, McClung said.

Now, with a new machine (that had been thrown in a local junkyard) McClung is determined to get students excited about reading again.

Not only does the unique idea perpetuate reading, but it engages students and allows them a sense of pride, she said.

“It’s obviously about helping with reading skills and improving test scores, but further than that, I wanted to make lifelong readers and show them that reading is fun,” McClung said.

The “brain food” vending machine is about more than just improving test scores, though, McClung said, especially in a high-poverty neighborhood like the West Side.

“Here, there are so many students that are needy and don’t have personal libraries. When kids can put a quarter in to buy a brand new book, and they stand there and choose the title, you give them a feeling of ownership. It’s something that they have. They’ve purchased it themselves and they can write their name in it,” she said. “That’s theirs.”

Mary C. Snow Elementary students can buy a “slightly read” book from the machine for 25 cents and new books for 50 cents.

McClung is working on acquiring grant funding to purchase new books and is also hoping to get support for the project through the charity,

To contribute books to the machine, contact Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary at 304-348-1902.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at, 304-348-4814 or follow @MackenzieMays on Twitter.

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