Free Lunches No Easy Task for FSP
February 17, 2004 Alex Woodie
Teachers and lunch quality are the big winners with changes made to the Food Service Program‘s school lunch program in the Midwest. As a result of a recent implementation of Cardiff Software‘s TELEform data capture and verification software, teachers will no longer have to manually enter information from their students’ meal order forms into the FSP’s OS/400-based application. In addition to increasing the quality of its data and processes, the FSP expects children to get better lunches, too.
The FSP is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1970 to provide affordable, convenient meals to children attending Catholic schools in the Chicago area. Since then the organization has expanded, and today it serves 70,000 free or low-cost lunches every day to eligible schoolchildren in northern Illinois, northwest Indiana, and southern Wisconsin as part of the National School Lunch Program.
The organization uses a customized OS/400 application to keep track of 21,000 individual orders from school children each month. The database-driven application is also used to meet the strict reporting guidelines required to remain eligible for the National School Lunch Program, as well as to continue to receive cash and commodity subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While FSP’s OS/400 server did an admirable job keeping track of orders and generating reports on the back-end, order entry at the front-end of the process remained a problem. Teachers were required to administer the program, which involved preparing each form for their students. FSP employees had to manually enter the data into the application, which introduced errors.
About a year ago, the organization took a look at the data-capture offering from Cardiff Software, which is based in San Diego. Cardiff’s software for high-volume paper-forms processing, called TELEform, works with production-level scanners, fax servers, and the Internet to capture, verify, process, and index data into a variety of applications and databases, including DB2/400, through its Data Export Connect Agents.
FSP chose TELEform and began integrating it with its custom OS/400 application. The idea was to automatically capture, process, and then verify the data that FSP received from forms students had filled out, as well as from digital sources, Cardiff says. With the handwriting-recognition capabilities of TELEform, data from student meal forms can now be transferred directly into FSP’s DB2/400-based order tabulation program.
At the same time, the Cardiff software also allows FSP to take data from the student database and pre-populate forms with a student’s profile information, first name, due date, meal price, and other required information, the company says. All told, the automation of the meal order process through the Cardiff software is expected to eliminate manual data entry and verification requirements by teachers and FSP employees, and therefore allow the organization to increase employee productivity, lower data-entry costs, and improve the quality of their data.
Kelly Lothian, FSP’s account manager, says the TELEform software helps deliver fresh food, as well as meet the National School Lunch Program standards. “We pride ourselves on providing fresh meals, instead of frozen meals, to the students we serve,” she says. “We now have streamlined information management across our organization and out to the students, ensuring accurate inventory, lower food costs, and the elimination of waste.”