A Kiwanis club’s foundation grant helps a book vending machine encourage reading and kindness in school. 

By Bob Uzenoff, member of the Kiwanis Club of Weston ♦ Photographs by Reed Ameden, Lisa Barbiero 

Shelly Rinas, teacher-librarian at Weston Intermediate School (WIS) in Connecticut, U.S., dreamed of promoting literacy while supporting a positive school culture. In particular, she wanted to add a book vending machine to the school’s library. 

Such machines have become increasingly popular in elementary and middle schools. Students use tokens — coins made specifically for the machine — to “buy” a book from the device. 

At WIS, which serves about 450 children in grades three through five, the school budget combined with support from the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) was enough to purchase new titles for the vending machine over the years. But Rinas needed support to purchase the machine itself — along with a custom cover in Weston blue and gold, a four-year warranty and 150 coins. 

What to do?
Weston Public School Superintendent and former Kiwanian Lisa Barbieropointed Rinas to Reed Ameden, chair of the Kiwanis Club of Weston’s Philanthropy Committee.  

On January 25, Rinas submitted a grant application to the committee. 

In June, the Kiwanis Club of Weston Foundation agreed to provide half of the money needed if Rinas could find funding for the remainder. The Weston Intermediate School PTOpledged to match Kiwanis’s funding.  

On June 24, Rinas was able to order the book vending machine. 

Today, the machine stands at the heart of the school’s “Caught Being Kind” program. When someone sees a student doing a good deed, that student earns a token. The first recipient, Cole, was recognized for helping reshelve and organize books during a book exchange. 

Thanks for additional reporting to Reed Ameden, Shelly Rinas and Barbara Gross. 

Ideas for your club
Are you initiating a program in a school or community location? Take some tips from the Weston Kiwanis Club: 

  • Be eventful! After the vending machine arrived, Rinas conducted an unveiling. She and fellow educator Paige Noonandevised a covering for the machine that would fall away when a ribbon was cut. 
  • Remind people who did it. As the machine was unveiled, attendees saw it wrapped in Kiwanis and PTO logos.  
  • Make people a part of the moment. Adriana Ilicheva, a student who had read 209 books, cut the gold ribbon and unveiled the machine. The event was also broadcast live to all classrooms. Other guests included members of the Weston club and the WIS PTO. 
  • Give a sense of ownership. The machine will have a name, and because of a school-wide naming contest, it will mean something to the students.