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Supply chain issues impact local schools

By Eugenia Jones

Despite nationwide labor shortages and disruptions in the supply chain, McCreary County School District food service administrators and school cooks are being creative and resourceful as they continue providing tasty and nutritious hot meals to most of McCreary County’s school-age children.  For many children, hot meals at school are their most reliable source of nutrition.

“We provide breakfast and lunch plus after school activity meals to children throughout the District,” McCreary County School District Food Service Director Mitzi Stephens said.  “Recent problems within the supply chain have created challenges for us.  Although we are still able to get food, we sometimes don’t get the items we ordered or planned to serve.  When that happens, we come up with new menus, substitute items, and reach out to new vendors.  We will ensure our students continue receiving nutritious meals at school. ”

Stephens said the disruptions do make it difficult to plan menus in advance. 

“We plan menus and feed that information into a computer program to make sure we are meeting the USDA nutritional guidelines,” Stephens explained.  “Often, people complain about school lunches without realizing we are still under nutritional guidelines requiring whole grain, etc.  When we don’t get the items we ordered, we must substitute other food items that meet USDA guidelines.  As a result, our menus change at the last minute.  Now, we just give menus to principals on a daily basis instead of weekly or monthly.”

McCreary County Middle School Head Cook Myrtie Strunk said her school has definitely been impacted by the nationwide labor and supply chain problems.

“We’ve had to substitute food items because we didn’t get what we ordered, and we’ve had shortages in disposable items such as Styrofoam plates,” Strunk noted.  “With the kids having meals in classrooms and the gym where they can social distance, we use a lot more disposable items.  When we do get those items, the prices have increased.”

Strunk said their primary distributor complains of not receiving deliveries from warehouses. 

Strunk stated some pre-packed breakfast items are not available and noted that regular pancakes now substitute for the popular pancakes-on-a-stick breakfast.  She also noted substitutions in breads such as schools receiving twelve inch rolls instead of six inch rolls for sandwiches.  

“Even that makes a difference when you are on a tight schedule because it takes extra time to cut all the rolls down to the six inch size,” Strunk observed.

In addition to substituting items and changing menus, cooks in McCreary County’s four district schools help each other by borrowing items between schools.

“We help each other get done what we need to get done,” Strunk said with a smile.  “We are definitely going to get our kids fed!”

With District staff working diligently to make substitutions when food and supply items are not received and searching out new vendors, McCreary County’s almost 3,000 students can confidently expect to continue receiving hot, healthy meals at school.

However, Stephens predicts supply shortages will be an ongoing concern for school lunch programs nationwide.

“I’m not very optimistic these problems are going to go away until COVID-19 is fully resolved,” Stephens said.

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