A growing number of school districts across the United States say that supply chain bottlenecks have forced them to suspend services or food items.
Schools across Denver are “struggling to receive enough milk to serve to every child at breakfast and lunch every day,” and are encouraging parents to provide reusable bottles for children, according to Denver Public Schools (DPS) spokesperson Theresa Hafner.
“When the milk is available, we are prioritizing serving milk at breakfast at all schools and at our elementary schools for lunch,” Hafner told Business Insider. “I think the milk company is trying its best to give most schools at least some milk, but not a complete order.”
Earlier this month, DPS told parents that it was experiencing “unprecedented supply-chain challenges with food and milk this fall.” As a result, some of the food served to students may differ from what’s on the menu.
Meanwhile, Shonia Hall, director of school nutrition services for the Oklahoma City Public Schools, told NBC on Oct. 16 that her distributor couldn’t obtain sporks, forks, or spoons. Hall said she had to purchase the items at a local Sam’s Club “to get us through for a few days, in hopes the truck would show up.”
“We can’t just hope. We have to be proactive,” she said. “I can’t feed kids without utensils, right?”
But that problem isn’t unique to Oklahoma City. In another example, last week, a school district in Alabama said it can’t feed students, citing “supply chain issues” with food vendors, and has called on parents to provide breakfast for them.
Alexander City Schools said it began asking parents to feed their children breakfast at home and provide snacks for their children because the district hasn’t received its food deliveries.
“Alexander City Schools, like many schools across the nation, is experiencing supply chain issues with our food vendors,” the district wrote in a Facebook post last week.
Authorities said that action was taken to open accounts with additional food delivery services. Meanwhile, the district said it’s working with Southern Food Services to deal with the supply chain issue.
“As you know, breakfast and lunch is served daily in our schools,” the district also wrote. “In previous weeks, we have not received our food deliveries due to suppliers who are short on supplies, drivers, and even warehouse employees. We have taken action to open accounts with other vendors in an attempt to diversify our supply options.”
Parents of students at the schools will be informed of menu changes on the night before.
“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, according to NBC. Inconsistent food, tray, and utensil deliveries have left them scrambling for supplies, she said.
“Every week, everybody is holding their breath, not knowing whether we’re going to get a truck or not because we don’t know if there’s going to be truck drivers or there’s going to be employees in the distributors’ warehouses,” Dillard said in an interview.
A principal in Philadelphia ordered 400 pizzas for students when a scheduled food delivery went undelivered in September, while in other states, staffers have resorted to shopping for groceries for students.
“Essentially what we have here is a perfect storm,” Stacy Koppen, nutrition services director for Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools district, told KSTP. “We have a shortage of raw gradients, we have a shortage of people in the workforce, at the same time everyone needs more of everything.”
In Missouri, school staffers told local media that they recently resorted to buying their own groceries.
“It’s just been kind of a nightmare,” Shawndra Taylor, Eldron School District’s food services director, told the Missouri Independent newspaper.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in late September that the U.S. agriculture industry is facing “unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts,” adding that the pandemic “has impacted every stage of our food supply chain, from commodity production through processing and delivery.”
President Joe Biden on Oct. 14 announced that his administration pushed companies such as UPS, FedEx, Walmart, and others to increase the number of shifts to deal with shipping bottlenecks, adding the Port of Los Angeles would move to 24/7 service. However, some business leaders say the move is too little, too late.