School cafeterias struggle with supply shortages

Cafeteria pizza food
Posted at 8:00 PM, Nov 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-02 20:00:44-04

KINGS MILLS, Ohio — Where is the pizza? No matter the location, schools across the country are facing a similar struggle as the disrupted supply chain causes shortages of cafeteria staples.

"During the course of this school year, we have been receiving shortage of main plate items such as pizza, canned goods, juices, waters, potatoes, those types of things pretty significantly," said Jennifer Arlinghaus, food service director for Kings Local School District. "Kings is not unique, and the problem that we're facing, all schools are in the same situation."

Arlinghaus said they have had about 30 to 40 shortages a week from their vendors, forcing cafeteria staff at schools like Kings High School to make adjustments to the menu daily.

"We have been experiencing this school year more food shortages — more so than I've experienced in my 17 years here," Arlinghaus said.

Items like serving trays, plastic ware and cups are also difficult to find. Arlinghaus said there has been days where they do not have enough to make it through all lunch periods.

"We've had instances where that has been the case, and we're running to local groceries to get what we need and we make it work," Arlinghaus said.

Arlinghaus said the challenges have also come amid staffing shortages, saying every school is shorthanded "every single day."

"When you cooking for over 800 kids, it's a lot," Kings High School head cook Linda Kidder said. "When you don't have help, like today for instance, [someone] was by herself. That's a lot."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture extended its free school lunch program through the 2021-22 school year, and Arlinghaus said the number of meals they are making every day has doubled compared to previous years because students who once brought lunch are eating their free lunches.

"Makes for a very long day," Arlinghaus said. "Basically...we take one day at a time, and however we need to do that, we do that."