Supply chain disruptions creating challenges for meals at East Texas school districts

Supply chain disruptions creating challenges for meals at East Texas school districts
Published: Jan. 7, 2022 at 4:35 PM CST

NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Supply chain disruptions are impacting school districts in a big way. Add to it, reduced purchasing power and staffing. It isn’t easy buying food to feed thousands of children every day.

Changes in school meal programs due to the pandemic are so apparent that even children can notice necessary adjustments. They miss favorite food selections. The items end up on daily out of stock ledgers.

“It’s a whole spread sheet. Sometimes even more. This is a pretty bad one,” illustrates Robin Thacker, the director of student nutrition for Nacogdoches ISD as she pulls up a list of numerous ‘out of stock’ items.

Amanda Calk, director of student nutrition for Lufkin ISD has the same sort of ledgers on her computer.

“Even though I have four different chicken manufacturers, I can’t find a chicken patty.”

Suppliers offer substitutes. Buyers wonder, will the children like it.

“But it meets the regs. We’ll try it. Sometimes it’s a good hit. Sometimes it’s not so much,” said Thacker.

Then there’s food presentation. Lufkin’s Kurth Primary School cafeteria manager Irma Moye is running low on styrofoam trays which may not last too much longer.

“Uhmm. Another week, week in a half,” said the 15-year district employee.

Her backup is hinged ‘to go’ boxes she’ll cut in two for makeshift trays.

There are student nutrition director blogs providing fresh ideas.

Users have been known to alert their colleagues when plastic dinner ware, hand sanitizers and other products are on sale at big box stores, like Sam’s and Costco.

“This business has been hit just, every aspect,” said Calk.

As in restaurants there are staffing shortages in school cafeterias.

“We’ve seen increases in our payroll,” shared Calk. “We had to significantly increase our starting pay in staff just to compete with the job market.”

USDA will distribute $1.5 billion to help school meal program operators.

And this morning directors learned an increase in school lunch reimbursements will come this month, rather than this summer.

“Which is an additional 25-cents per lunch,” said Thacker. “And that will help with some of the food cost increases, but I will tell you my food costs normally run about a $1.25. My food cost currently is running $1.75 to $2.05.”

Both districts offer free lunches and breakfasts to all students eliminating financial responsibility to parents. Both districts use co-ops to purchase food at lower costs. And both programs attempt to be self-sustainable thru slowly allocated federal and state funding.

Still, directors and staff speak of weariness and wonder what more can be done to keep food on the table.

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