Amidst mask requirements, remote learning and yet another state executive order, Monroe County schools are also facing school meal concerns in this continuing age of COVID.
And they are not alone.
According to a School Nutrition Association survey, 97 percent of schools nationwide worry about how pandemic supply chain disruptions can impact their lunchrooms.
Schools across Monroe County received notice that a Kohls Wholesale shipment scheduled for Tuesday would not come that day and possibly not even that week, Waterloo Superintendent Brian Charron said. This was due to a shortage of drivers.
As a result, Charron asked families via email to send their children with packed meals, if they could afford to do so, and warned that Waterloo cafeterias “are forced to immediately reduce (their) menus to the most basic of meals.”
Fortunately, the shipment was able to be delivered on Labor Day, thanks to an Kohls driver who volunteered to drive on the holiday, Columbia Superintendent Chris Grode said.
Schools are not exactly in the clear, Charron cautioned.
“We are being told this is not a one-time issue,” Charron said. “They haven’t given us a prediction on how long it’s going to last, but they also haven’t given us an indication that it’s going to end soon. Until people are going to go back to work, I’m afraid we are going to be experiencing this in a lot of places.”
Because the truck’s arrival time shifted, school districts were allowed to change their orders, prompting Waterloo to find a potential solution.
“We are upping our orders so that we can stock our coolers and freezers with a weeks’ worth of food so that if there is a future cancellation of an order, we can just simply keep rotating food out of the freezer (since) we have a week’s (worth of food) to get by with,” Charron explained.
Further complicating potential shortages of food due to supply chain issues, schools are providing some meals free of charge to students as COVID has impacted many families financially.
“One of the problems is the number of meals that we serve has gone through the roof because people don’t have to pay for them anymore,” Grode said. “For every (free) meal that we serve, we record that … (and) we submit that number to the state and the federal government actually reimburses us so much money per meal.”
Waterloo ran into an unexpected problem with this on the second day of school. As documented by an infamous picture that circulated widely on Facebook, there was a shortage of chicken strips at Waterloo High School.
“I think probably what happened is a lot of kids realized on the first day of school that you can get a free school meal. So, on the second day of school, there was a run on chicken strips … We had no idea how many kids were going to be coming up wanting chicken strips,” Charron explained. “We have the high school split into four lunch periods, and in order to make what chicken strips were prepared last, they had to start rationing them. Kids could have taken another food product if they didn’t want the chicken strips, but if they took the chicken strips, they were going to be limited.”
Charron not only stressed that there were other food options available that day, but also that the chicken strip picture was not reflective of the lunches typically served at WHS.
“Everybody keeps posting the same picture,” Charron said. “We don’t think it’s fair to keep posting that same picture and act like it’s an everyday thing.”
For more information on food-related concerns in the schools, visit the schoolnutrition.org.