School districts dealing with food shortages

Supply chain disrupting school lunches
Published: Sep. 9, 2021 at 7:38 PM EDT
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SPRING ARBOR TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WILX) - Schools across Michigan are dealing with a growing list of shortages, from teachers and classroom aides to bus drivers and sports officials. Now, you can add food to the list.

Supply chain disruptions are forcing school districts to do what they can to make sure everyone has breakfast and lunch every day.

“It’s worse right now than it was at the start of the pandemic when people were starting to hoard,” said Mike Smajda, Western School District Superintendent.

Lunch menus at schools across mid-Michigan could be changing at a moment’s notice because schools simply can’t get everything they need to serve thousands of meals every day.

Smajda said it’s a challenge trying to feeding kids right now.

“The state and the federal government aren’t afraid to remind us that we have certain nutritional obligations under the Healthy Kids Act,” said Smajda.

Thursday, there were many empty shelves in the middle school freezer.

“This is going to be an interesting several weeks as we try to get food,” said Smajda.

Smajda said the latest shipment didn’t have most of the food order because it’s out of stock.

“We might have to go into the freezer someday and say, you know what, where’s what we’ve got, here’s what we’re serving. Rather than what the menu says we’re having for that week or that day,” said Smajda.

David Closs, a supply chain professor at Michigan State, said schools can help by keeping orders simple.

“If you have a lot of alternatives, like in the production process if you’re making 100 variations, you have a whole lot of changeovers. If you reduce that in half, you have half as many changeovers which means you have more capacity,” said Closs.

Western is also looking at other suppliers to help fill orders, and doing what it takes to get food to students.

“It may be making special arrangements for transportation for commodities to get to us from other distribution centers,” said Smajda.

Sometimes, that’s sending a school bus to pick up supplies. Smajda said they are shifting what they do have to make sure students don’t notice too much. Right now, the USDA is providing free breakfast and lunch for K-12 schools, which is driving up demand and prices of many items.

Supply chain experts said disruptions are expected to continue into 2023.

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