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Staffing, supply shortages hit St. Louis area school cafeterias

Districts are juggling food delivery disruptions, while trying to find people to work

ST. LOUIS — The nationwide labor and supply shortages are impacting just about every corner of our economy. Now, you can add your child's school cafeteria to that list. It turns out, school districts in Missouri and Illinois are struggling to maneuver food supply issues all while staffing is at an all-time low.

Breanna Gordon is administrator of nutrition, wellness and food service in the Edwardsville school district.

“We anticipate that there's going to be snags, there's going to be hurdles that we're going to have to cross and it might even be daily between food shortages or staffing issues," Gordon explained.

She’s tasked with making sure thousands of mouths are fed at the district’s 14 schools. Lately, her job has become all about maneuvering the next worst-case scenario. Just a few weeks ago, the chicken nuggets they planned to serve that day didn’t arrive.

“They didn't show up for nine out of our 14 sites. So, we kind of backtracked. We came back together and had another plan. I had some schools serve sloppy joes, some schools served pizza,” explained Gordon.

Distribution issues are just a piece of the problem. With the federal program providing free breakfast and lunch at public schools, more kids are choosing to eat the cafeteria food. At the same time, schools are dealing with staffing shortages.

The food service staff at Parkway Schools is down 25%.

“It's been a struggle. It's like every industry, we're not quite sure where all the workers have gone,” explained Patty Bedborough, chief financial officer for Parkway.

As far as their food supply, Bedborough feels lucky. She just signed on with a major distributor this summer.

“Because of their buying power, we’re not seeing direct shortages, we're seeing some substitutions come in,” she explained.

Over in Edwardsville, they've set up tents for students to eat outside and have cut down their menu to not only account for food shortages but also to keep the lunch hour as sanitary as possible.

Both districts want parents to know, none of these issues have or will impact their kids getting a nutritious meal.

“We stay focused on our strategic plan and our kids are always in the center of our decision,” Bedborough said.

Gordon explained that although there are some disruptions in their food deliveries, they are continuing to receive fresh fruits and vegetables from the USDA.

“We always have other options, and we would never short our students. They will continue to receive a well-rounded and nutritious meal every day,” said Gordon.