Carter County Times | Excited to read: Olive Hill vending machine rewards students with books

By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times

Olive Hill Elementary School’s newest addition has kids pretty excited. It’s a vending machine. This vending machine isn’t full of soda pops, snacks, or candy though. It’s a vending machine full of books.

Donna Stamper, who wrote the grant that helped bring the machine to the school, said the kids had been very excited about the ribbon cutting.

“They’ve been impatiently waiting,” she said with a laugh.

One teacher, she said, had a student who asked every day when they could finally get a book from the vending machine.

The machine, which features a variety of books aimed at readers of different levels, operates in the same manner as the spiral mechanism snack machines – the ones that spin around after a button is pushed, dropping your chips or cookies into a covered bin on the bottom. Only, instead of taking dollar bills or quarters, this vending machine works with special tokens that each student will be awarded at some point throughout the year.

Some of those students got their first go on the day of the ribbon cutting, Thursday of last week.

Those who didn’t get a token on the day of the ribbon cutting were getting one the day after, she said, during the school carnival. This way, she explained every child in the school would get at least one token before the school year was out.

Next year, she said, they will get tokens on their birthdays and as positive reinforcement awards for good behavior.

Stamper, who works with the Olive Hill Elementary Family Resource and Youth Service Center, said she saw an article online about the vending machines and decided to contact the company who made them.

She was able to secure the funding to purchase the machine through a grant from the Steele-Reese Foundation. That grant allowed her to purchase the machine and provided funding for the first set of books.

It was a very generous move by the Steele-Reese Foundation, she explained. The version of the vending machine she ordered and received was a little more pricey, she said, because they had altered it to hold some of the larger and longer books. It would have been cheaper to leave the machine stock, and only fill it with smaller books. But, she explained, some of the young children and early reader books don’t conform to the smaller and standardized sizes, and she felt it was important to make sure they had a space for those style of books too.

This is not the first instance of Stamper going out of her way to promote literacy. The educator has also secured grants for Little Free Library locations in the Olive Hill city park and at the elementary school, and has secured a promise of funding for a story trail for the park as well.

The Steele-Reese Foundation funds “education proposals benefitting pre-kindergarten and K-12 school-aged children,” in Appalachian Kentucky and rural communities in Idaho and Montana. You can find out more about the Steele-Reese foundation online at

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