When the kids go back to school, a lot goes through their heads on school principals: school safety, debates over masking, how to help kids academically catch up when they’re lagging behind. But that’s not all. School principals are also concerned about how they will feed children in their canteens due to the labor shortage and widespread supply chain problems caused by the pandemic.
School has already started in Jefferson County, Colorado. Beth Wallace is the executive director of food and nutrition services for the district.
“We are experiencing things that we have never seen before … we typically have 450 employees, and our positions are currently at around 98, ”said Wallace.
She said the district increased the wages of the school canteen from $ 12.48 an hour to $ 15 an hour. People still don’t come to work.
Figuring out what to serve children has become a challenge. This year the students will receive fewer meals.
“Our high schools had maybe six or seven options. And this year you might be lucky enough to get two of those options. By the way, everything we’ve printed with those menus has to change on site because the delivery of products doesn’t arrive, ”Wallace said.
There is a similar story at Plymouth-Canton schools in Michigan. Kristen Hennessey is the director of food and nutrition services there. She tried to get creative with recruiting people. When school staff go to restaurants and meet servers and other talented workers, she asked them to hand out business cards with a QR code tied to an application to the school district.
“Well, of course there is a labor shortage, as with all, and I told my staff that too. … I said we are not alone in this. Everyone has to change the way they do business, so we’re not an island to ourselves, ”said Hennessey.
Nationwide, the School Nutrition Association announced that public school canteens served more than 29 million students before the pandemic. With more students returning to face-to-face classes this year, finding staff to cook and serve meals across the country is challenging.
“A crisis point”
“The labor shortage has become a real hot spot in school nutrition for many of us, especially in these major boroughs, ”said Katie Wilson, executive director of the Urban School Food Alliance, a group that represents catering professionals in the country’s largest school districts. “Many of our counties are looking for  300 employees in their school nutrition programs alone. ”
And she said the labor shortage doesn’t end at the cafeteria door.
“The distributors, the manufacturers, also have work problems. There aren’t enough people working in warehouses, there aren’t enough truck drivers. We heard from some dealers that they can only ship one for every 10 trucks, ”said Wilson.
Bottlenecks are driving up prices
And the scarcity, combined with the demand, are driving up prices. Wilson said she heard of school districts where costs have increased between 7% and 30% this year. Many school districts also have fewer opportunities to cook food on site. While food prepackaged and cooked off-site may meet nutritional requirements, she said it won’t be as fresh as food cooked in a school.
“Buying more local products, processing our own food, and preparing our own food takes work. It’s easy to buy something in a wrapper, reheat it, and serve it, but we don’t want that, ”said Wilson.