Serve sweets to satisfy students

Wildcat Chronicle Staff

By Wildcat Chronicle Staff

Imagine coming in from running the mile, sweat dripping down your face. You look at the beautiful bottle of ice cold water staring you in the eyes from behind glass. You quickly reach into your pocket and grab a few dollars, placing them though the slot. The display tells you more money is required; you put in the needed amount, but then the machine jams. When you attempt to get your money back, the vending machine just shuts down. Now, you have lost the wonderful bottle of water, and the money you used to get the fabulous refreshment. The irritation.

Over the last few years, the selection of items in West Chicago Community High School’s vending machines has been getting noticeably worse. With new “healthy” options, such as baked chips and zero-sugar drinks, students can no longer find their favorite snacks and beverages. For some individuals, the Starbucks coffee drinks were a necessity.

The broken Starbucks machine near the Social Studies wing of the school. (Photo by Carlos Espinoza)

In the morning, students are looking for something to start their day or something to keep them going throughout the day. Now they cannot even find a water bottle, and if they do, it is not fairly priced. To add to this frustration, the machines that do work do not take debit or credit cards.

Of the 209 students surveyed at West Chicago Community High School in December 2021, 89.5% said they would prefer if the machines took credit and debit cards. Why? Perhaps because the current vending machines do not take anything above a $5 bill. As such, the “new” machines with “new” items are not convenient for students. (Not to mention the majority of the machines are broken, causing fury for students and staff. There are never signs stating that the machines are broken, so students are sometimes forced to try 3 or more machines before retrieving their preferred product.)

Additionally, Quest neglects to refill vending machines on a regular basis, so, the machines are not only overpriced and broken, but also often empty, or filled with undesirable snacks and drinks.

To be clear, the administration does not have any control over the vending situation. At West Chicago Community High School, the food provider Quest is responsible for the vending machines. They are, in turn, following a new regulation called “Smart Snack” that filters what kind of items schools can sell in vending machines. Under the “Smart Snack” guidelines, providers are asked to use software that calculates the health sufficiency of a given snack; the provider then knows if certain items can be vended within the school. For example, when Wildcat Chronicle staffers used the calculator, we input the information for plain, old animal crackers: the results came back suggesting animal crackers are an insufficient snack. Perhaps this “Smart Snack” idea is left over from the Obama administration, who may have been working to provide more nutritious options for those who cannot afford them, as seen in the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act.

“Additionally, due to supply shortages across the nation, many items Quest would like to have in vending machines are either not available or have seen a big price increase,” said Dan Oberg Director of Business Services at District 94. With the price levels rising in our country, Oberg agreed to increase the price of the items in the vending machines with Quest at a food service meeting at the beginning of the school year.

New price increases to $2.75 have upset students at WEGO, who believe the increase is too high. (Photo by Carlos Espinoza)

We contacted the Quest food service director at the school, Isabel Mota. Due to our school being a part of the national school program, and Quest’s adherence to the State of Illinois guidelines, Mota explained that Quest is only able to order sugar-free or zero-calorie drinks for the vending machines.

Also, due to state guidelines, Quest is only able to sell what are considered “smart”, or healthy, snacks in school.

In other words, the only way to see a return of the snacks from previous years would be for WEGO to leave the national school program.

Despite the goal of helping students find healthy options in school, we maintain the policy is actually hurting students’ nutritional choices because many students are just skipping the vending machines, as they have undesirable items in them.

The most requested items from the students who participated in the survey were Hot Cheetos, candy, and Starbucks beverages. When asked, 87.3 percent of these students firmly believed that the content in the vending machines should change.

Another reason students are skipping the machines is that the items are overpriced. These are school vending machines, so that means the majority of their customers are students who do not have full-time jobs or extensive bank accounts. There should be absolutely no reason that an individual has to skip getting the water bottle or the snack because it is overpriced ($2 and above).

We recommend adding more variety and making items affordable. Students will be more inclined to purchase items from the vending machines if there are additional choices. Administrators should look into finding a new source to meet the students’ vending machine needs.

That said, these frustrations cannot be taken out on the food provider Quest or the school administration individually. The “Smart Snack” restrictions are an issue that is stemming from shortages of products locally and nationally. The school and Quest are both trying their best with all the shortages to fill and maintain items in the vending machines. The Wildcat Chronicle editorial team simply wants to draw attention to the machines so there can be changes and improvements in the future for the students.