Technology

Vending machine for homeless earns students national stage

Posted 12:01 a.m. Sunday

— Before they start building, Gulfport High School robotics class students have to first find a reason to build.

For every piece of machinery his students envision, teacher Clinton Brawley says there must be a real-world, community benefit.

This time, the students may have outdone themselves.

The school is attracting national attention for building a solar-powered vending machine that supplies free hygiene products to homeless people.

National Technical Honors Society students were given the challenge to build a device that combined STEAM research — an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — with a community purpose. After learning there are 143 homeless students in the Gulfport School District, the robotics class came up with the idea to gear something specifically for the homeless population — starting first with homeless students in the district.

"They found out just how many students are homeless, here in our own district, and they immediately wanted to do something to help," said Susan Bush, Gulfport student coordinator and adviser to the National Technical Honors Society.

Inside the unique machine are toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, disposable razors, bars of soap and feminine hygiene products.

The students plan to use their machine within the school district, they hope to unveil similar machines across the city. They plan to power the machines with solar panels and add a shower that uses rainwater or reusable water called "gray water."

For now, the machine operates on tokens that will be given to district counselors, who know which students are homeless.

Ashley Brock was one of the students who came up with the unique idea.

"We all met and brainstormed issues in our community," Brock said. "One of the prominent ones was homelessness. We wanted some sort of device that the homeless would have access to 24/7."

The 10 national finalists will go to New York City to present their projects to a panel of judges March 14. Judges will select three grand prize national winners, and one community choice winner will be selected by public voting.

Anyone in the country can vote for their favorite school to determine the community choice winner. Participants will need to view the school's video and then cast their votes by posting the school's given hashtag on Twitter. Gulfport's hashtag is #SamsungSolveGPHS.

If Gulfport High School wins the grand prize, students will also get a $20,000 donation for The Nourishing Place, a nonprofit charitable organization.

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