How local school cafeterias are adjusting to supply chain issues

CPS cafeteria.jpg
Posted at 4:14 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-16 09:00:54-04

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - Local school districts are struggling to feed students and said a Costco run to meet demand may not be out of the question.

Educators in Chesapeake blame recent issues on the nationwide supply chain shortage.

"The supply chain demand issues are creating some real issues for us with having all of what we need, but we're still making it work," said Larry Wade Sr., director of school nutrition services for Chesapeake Public Schools.

Even with Chesapeake Public Schools having a warehouse, and the ability to store meals long-term, they said they are struggling.

In fact, News 3 learned they have to change the menu almost daily based on what's actually delivered from distributors.

"Our count is going up and our availability of the food is going down," said Wade. "For example, if we order 250 cases of pork barbecue, we might get 25," which you can imagine isn't enough to feed the thousands of children within Chesapeake Public Schools."

Larry Wade Sr., director of school nutrition services, said they're increasingly being forced to make last-minute menu changes just to get food on the plate.

"It happens almost every day. We've had this issue since August," he said.

Let's say students are expecting pizza; if the distribution is delayed and there's none stored in the freezer, students may get pasta instead. The substitution just needs to meet nutrition guidelines.

"From day to day, the option for the consideration for a Costco run or perhaps a Sam's run is a real reality," Wade said.

Wade said last year the district was serving about 3,500 meals for breakfast each day and 7,500 for lunch. Now he said, "In the middle of September, this year, we were serving almost 15,000 lunch meals and almost 9,000 breakfast meals."

While the number of kids to feed has increased so has the price of supplies. Wade said from major distributors, like Cisco, Dori foods and Richmond Restaurant, they have seen an increase of 9% and 10%. He said school nutrition has a budget of $13.5 million to feed students.

"We received guidance from VDOE that because of prices and because of the lack of having certain items available that the cost will continue to rise and the districts have been given the green light to make the necessary adjustments the pricing," Wade said.

Yet on top of the food shortages and supply chain issues, there are also staffing shortages. CPS reports they are down 72 school nutrition workers and 28 lunchroom monitors.

"We're meeting more often to try to come up with ideas, we're brainstorming and create new and innovative ways to provide meal service," said Wade.

It's important to note that the district said there hasn't been a time when students haven't been fed. They said that goes for the students participating in in-person learning and virtual learning.

The district credits the collaboration of their staff and the ability to store items in the warehouse.

In regards to Hampton City Schools supply shortages, Executive Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Kellie Goral said that:

The impact has primarily been in the area of ordering non-food items/supplies (e.g., utensils, food trays, to-go containers). In the past we have ordered our non-food supplies from one vendor. To ensure we are keeping up with the supply demand, we now use multiple vendors and on occasions have had to order from Amazon when items have been out of stock with our vendors. From the food perspective, we have had to switch a few menu items around in regard to name brands. For example if our vendor is out of Tyson chicken, we may order Perdue chicken or vice versa. US Foods has been working hand-in-hand with Hampton City Schools to provide items that we have on our menu. If menu items become unavailable at the last moment, US Foods has found comparable replacements/substitutes for such items (such as a whole apple vs. sliced apples or cauliflower vs. broccoli) to ensure HCS is meeting our USDA guidelines as well as providing our students nutritious meals.

A spokesperson with Virginia Beach City Public Schools said:

"There are national labor shortages impacting many businesses, and the food industry has been hit especially hard. These issues are finding their way into our K-12 food service as suppliers and manufacturers struggle to meet demand. Local distributors are frequently unable to deliver full orders. Items such as paper trays and to-go containers, produce, beef, chicken and milk have all been subject to shortages, and we sometimes learn about them on delivery day. That means an occasional quick change on the menu in order to continue to provide healthy and complete meals for our students. We appreciate your patience as we work through these issues."

Katherine Goff with the York County School Division said:

"We want families to know that product shortages and supply chain issues, similar to those you may have noticed at local stores, are impacting School Food Service programs across the country. YCSD is currently feeling the effects regarding chicken products, paper supplies and some breakfast items. If shortages cause a change to the advertised daily menu, announcements will be made at school. We appreciate your support as we navigate through these nationwide challenges.

"Additionally, we have shared the impacts of the supply chain shortages on our Capital Improvement Program project updates during the last few School Board meetings. Some examples include a middle school gym renovation was delayed about 1-2 months due to delaying in wood flooring shipments. While the renovation to our Bruton High School media center is about 4 months behind schedule right now due to various shipping delays. We expect to open the new site in early November. Finally, a roofing project at York High is now expected to be delayed approximately six months."