School districts across the state and nation are scrambling more than eggs these days.
They’re scrambling their menus in the wake of supply chain chaos causing food and other shortages.
Coronavirus has caused major disruptions to food production, transportation and storage which is wreaking havoc in school districts everywhere, including in Foxboro.
Janice Watt, food service director for Foxboro schools, said it’s been chaotic.
“Since school started, I have spent a lot of time looking for food and supplies from a number of sources,” she said in an email. “A few times a week, I personally make trips to either BJ’s or Restaurant Depot to fill the gaps, or look to smaller distributors to help fill the need.”
It’s not an easy task filling the pantry, she said.
“Our main distributors are out of stock on many things, sometimes without reasonable substitutes,” Watt said. “Plus, the regular scheduled delivery days are often pushed off one to two days because they don’t have drivers or warehouse selectors.”
The disruptions have forced changes in menu planning.
“We’ve always planned our purchasing a week out, so we’ve been able to manage, so far, but I’m concerned about the next few months,” Watt said. “We are now trying to order a few weeks out to make sure we get the products we need, or have a buffer of time to re-order items.”
Like Attleboro, where director of finance for the schools Marc Furtado said they are experiencing shortages in government-provided food such as cheese, butter and meat, she’s been forced to adapt as she goes.
“I do everything in my power to find and provide the planned menu items,” Watt said. “We don’t want to disappoint the kids!”
Some things in short supply are egg patties, bacon and taco seasoning, she said.
“Disposable supplies have also been hard to get, but fortunately, we use washable trays,” Watt said. “Items like disposable salad containers and smoothie cups have been out of stock pretty regularly. It has been so challenging that I decided to purchase washable bowls for our high school.”
She also reported a surge in students taking part in meal programs.
Watt said USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is funding free breakfasts and lunches for all students which has pushed up the numbers of those participating.
“In January 2020, our district average daily meal participation was 9 percent for breakfast and 51 percent for lunch,” she said. “This September, our breakfast participation is up to 19 percent and lunch participation is 62 percent.”
She’s pleased with the bigger numbers, but said she and her staff “will continue to bend over backwards to get the foods that kids love.”
However, someday they may not be able to get those products.
“The reality is, there may come a day when the menu will need to change without notice,” Watt said. “Kids and parents need to be aware of this reality of the current situation. We’re doing our very best!”
Furtado said: “You kind of wake up every day and pray it doesn’t get worse.”
Food such as cheese, butter and meat are usually provided at no or little cost, and that’s creating chaos with menus and the budget.
With less government product available the costs are going up because the district has to turn to private food service companies and pay the going price.
And even those food companies, like Sysco Corp. and Costa Fruit and Produce, don’t always have what’s needed.
Furtado said menu items are regularly substituted on the fly.
“We might call for hamburger patties and they’ll say they only have chicken patties,” he said. “You have to stay loose when you make the call. It’s not just like you order what you want.”
Furtado said shortages were something that developed over the summer.
“It totally caught us by surprise,” he said.
The only good thing so far this year is that student participation in the food service has gone up about 20 percent which is helping pay the extra costs, he said.