to run their lunchtime operations more efficiently.

"We're handling the money for the schools, and they like how fast they can get students through the lines," Bennett said. "[Cafeteria workers] see the Mealpay card, click a button and that kid is gone."

For further convenience, automatic notifications are sent via e-mail to let parents know if their child's account is running low. Parents with more than one child may set up different profiles using one account. They may pay as late as midnight for their child to have credit the next day on a Mealpay card.

Parents may also deposit extra money to pay for other school-related items such as admission to school dances, athletic fees and yearbooks. Like some other automated payment systems, though, Mealpay charges parents $2 per transaction.

Coming to a School Near You

So far, only 76 school districts in 24 states use the service. Bennett said her company is in its infancy with this program, and plenty of school districts in the United States are in line for Mealpay service.

"I can't tell you exactly how many installations we have on order, but it's 100 or more," Bennett said. "We've really just started heavily pushing the service."

Bennett said the percentage of students using Mealpay runs between 5 percent and 50 percent, depending on the school district.

Bennett considers that an impressive number, especially compared to three years ago when the company first went online with Georgia's Gwinnett County School District, and the user rate was 1 percent.

Brooke doesn't know what percentage of Jefferson County School District's students uses Mealpay, but she said $1.5 million was transacted during the last school year.

"The year before that, when we first began using Mealpay, our sales were $1 million, so it's growing," Brooke said.

While Mealpay will begin charging schools a flat rate in the coming months, districts currently pay 5.75 percent of the transacted funds to use the service, a fee Brooke calls worthwhile.

"If you consider the amount of time it takes to handle $1.5 million, the fee is a legitimate expense," Brooke said. "Especially if you compare what it would cost otherwise."

Jana Saastad  |  Contributing Writer