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Supply chain crisis impacts school lunches
school lunches
Supply chain issues have seen shortages in school lunch favorites, including chicken nuggets, and increases in prices of staples, like milk (Photo contributed).

Shortages due to supply chain disruption has hit a lot of industries and businesses and is also affecting what children are served for lunch at local schools.

According to the Turlock Unified School District Director of Child Nutrition Jennifer Lew-Vang, the district has “absolutely” been impacted by the supply chain crisis. It has been more difficult this year than others to obtain certain foods and materials, she said.

“It is extremely difficult finding foods that have been a long-standing school meal favorite, such as chicken nuggets, spicy chicken filets and whole-grain items (cereals, breads, crackers),” she said. “In addition, we have struggled to maintain the quality and quantities of plates, trays, sporks and napkins.”

The cost of food and materials is up nearly across the board since the start of the pandemic, according to Lew-Vang. The district used to pay $0.22 for milk and now it is approximately $0.36 per 8 oz milk carton. Items and prices awarded on TUSD bids have resulted in approximately 10 price increases due to a force majeure notice of labor, freight, energy and other packaging input costs.

“Food and supply costs have nearly doubled and tripled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2019,” said Lew-Vang. “We try not to think about the costs of the milk difference with a $0.14 price increase because ultimately, our goal is to ensure all students are fed.”

Lew-Vang said it was already difficult to receive plates, trays, sporks and napkins, but now TUSD is having to pay an additional $0.02 and up to $0.20 per item. When multiplied by 14,000 students in the district per day, a $0.02 increase ends up costing $51,000 extra per year in supply costs for one item.

One way the district is mitigating the supply issues is by serving produce grown by the district’s own farm.

Over the summer and throughout the pandemic, the TUSD farm was able to produce over 2,000 pounds of apricots, peaches, plums and pluots that were utilized in curbside student meals. This helped alleviate some of the food crisis impact delays from vendors who were short staffed and did not have drivers to deliver fresh fruits to the district.

“Coordinator of TUSD Farm Hali Bream and I collaborate frequently to discuss ways to improve department partnerships and better serve TUSD students and community,” said Lew-Vang. “We are hopeful with the recently awarded Farm to School Incubator Grant that we will be able to plant and harvest more varieties of seasonal fruits and vegetables to meet our growing demand all school year long.”