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School cafeterias feel pinch of national supply, labor shortages

Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 5:42 PM EST
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RIEGELWOOD, N.C. (WECT) - Pandemic supply shortages are becoming more and more common; however, the latest one is impacting an unconventional place: the school cafeteria.

Nutrition directors in school districts across southeastern North Carolina are reporting issues getting the items they ordered.

In Columbus County, pizza and tater tots were on the menu at Acme Delco Elementary Monday. They’re both crowd favorites, and items cafeteria workers wouldn’t have been able to pull off last week.

“We weren’t getting items like chicken items, we weren’t getting pizza, we weren’t getting french fries, waffle fries, sweet potato fries, anything like that,” said Columbus County child nutrition director Kim Clontz.

The USDA has had issues delivering food and supplies to district warehouses, and the warehouses have had issues delivering what did come in to school cafeterias, citing staffing shortages.

It’s a problem not limited to Columbus County.

A New Hanover County Schools spokesperson issued this statement Monday.

New Hanover County Schools is experiencing issues with supply chain backlogs due to manufacturing issues. Some menus have been changed due to these backlogs, but NHCS and our Child Nutrition staff are working very hard to ensure our students experience little to no effects from these shortages.

Across the region though, district leaders have changed menus and served up out-of-the-box solutions, ranging from ordering pizzas to adding more entrée choices to ensure there’s enough food to go around.

“One day last week, one of the managers had to go to a grocery store and get some frozen biscuits. She had sausage patties, so she put those together and it was a hit at the school,” said Clontz. “It may get worse before it gets better, but right now we’re working with what we have.”

The issues aren’t limited to food. In Pender County, officials have been able to find substitutes for items like chicken nuggets, but have the hardest time getting their hands on non-food items like Styrofoam trays and plastic utensils.

Officials in Brunswick County report similar issues in their region.

“The nationwide issues have not caused any kind of disruption in the ability to serve free breakfast and lunch to all Brunswick County students; however, there will be times when Child Nutrition serves a different meal than what is listed on the online monthly menu. This is temporary. Additionally, the cost of most supplies has increased significantly so we continue to look for ways and options to minimize those costs of various products like cups, utensils, etc,” explained a spokesperson for Brunswick County schools. “We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding while we ensure every student has access to free breakfast and lunch every day and extra appreciation to the Child Nutrition staff who are making sure that happens, regardless of the nationwide supply shortages.”

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