Supply chain woes hit school cafeterias, leaving administrators scrambling to make meals

The supply chain shortages hitting the entire country are leaving school cafeterias short of items from utensils to syrup packets.

WASHINGTON — Turkey for tacos, chicken products, orange juice and meal trays are just a few of the items that Shonia Hall, director of school nutrition services for the Oklahoma City Public Schools, said she can’t find.

The latest victim of the supply chain slowdown is the school cafeteria, leaving nutrition administrators scrambling to get proper meals on the table for students as they return to the classroom.

A few weeks ago, Hall’s distributor couldn’t get sporks, spoons or forks and she had to run to her local Sam’s Club to buy 60,000 of each “to get us through for a few days in hopes the truck would show up,” Hall said in an interview.

“We can’t just hope. We have to be proactive,” she said. I can’t feed kids without utensils, right?”

Such shortages and being forced to turn to retail stores to fill the void when distributors don’t come are becoming more prevalent at schools across the country.

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“It’s an additional cost to your budget, to your program,” said Hall, who adds that she is grateful for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program, which has increased its reimbursement to schools trying to meet meal demands.

And the crunch is coming at an unprecedented time for school lunches.

The meal service waivers known as the “Seamless Summer Option” has been extended through June 2022. The waivers allow for schools to offer meals free of charge to students. Republicans in Congress have been critical of the proposal made by Democrats to make universal free meals permanent because of the potential high price tag.

Just this week President Joe Biden announced three of the largest U.S. goods carriers, Walmart, FedEx and UPS, will up their efforts to address supply chain issues after retailers have already begun warning that some products may not make it to the shelves before the holidays.

“Never again should our country and our economy be unable to make critical products we need because we don’t have access to materials to make that product,” Biden said in a speech Wednesday.

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Logistical backups at shipping ports, driven in part by worker shortages and Covid outbreaks, have doubled the time it takes for some products to make their way from Asia to the U.S.

“Well, we’re struggling, you know, we can get food, but we’re having a lot of outages and shortages,” said Stephanie Dillard, child nutrition director at Enterprise City Schools in Alabama.

The school district has dealt with inconsistent deliveries of food and supplies, like trays and utensils, which is an added layer of stress on school staff who are coming back from a year of mostly remote learning due to the Covid pandemic.

(Source)

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