Schools across Utah are struggling to deliver meals to students. The Utah Board of Education has found food and labor shortages, which could pose a serious problem for schools in Utah.
“It’s like a perfect storm,” says Kathleen Britton, the director of the child nutrition program at USBE. “The volumes of meals have gone up, [and] the labor shortages [and] food supply chain shortages have just compounded the whole issue.”
Restaurants can raise their prices and hire more people, but there is no way around the need to prepare meals for students and schools across the state. Ben Horsley, a spokesperson at the Granite School District says that “the workload hasn’t changed and there’s less people doing it.” During the pandemic, many people were fired or laid off, making it difficult for people to find jobs and make a living, especially if they have a family.
“Kids are counting on breakfast and lunch in [their] classrooms and schools each and every day,” says Horsley. Before USDA waivers made school lunches free, more than 60% of the student population was already participating in free meals programs. According to USBE, since the pandemic hit, their nutrition team has dropped from 625 employees to about 200. Horsley says that it’s even more difficult to keep up with demand because they are competing against companies like Amazon to fill positions in their warehouse. Schools in the public sector are “limited on the amount of money that’s allocated to us to be able to attract and incentive employees to come work for us.”
“Our school’s lunch workers have been our frontline workers throughout the whole pandemic,” says Britt. Food supply shortages and labor problems have put many schools in a tight spot, but they are still making sure that students are fed well-balanced meals.
USBE urges those who are looking for a job to check with their local school for employment opportunities. According to a recent press release, “The Utah State Board of Education (USBE) Child Nutrition staff [is] working with school food service programs across the state and with partners throughout the country to understand challenges, provide support, and find solutions. Additional resources to address these challenges are available through the schoolnutrition.org, theicn.org, and nokidhungry.org websites.
Some service directors and leadership teams are working 15-20 hours per day to find supplies and food. Food shortages make it harder for farms and ranches to provide food for schools. There is also a shortage of truck drivers to transport food from factories. “Keeping up with the increase in school meals and navigating through current circumstances has brought new challenges,” says Britt. This has created difficulties not only for the people who work with nutrition programs, but also for students. Many students can only eat certain foods from school and may not have the right resources to get lunch from home. Parents may also find it more difficult to provide meals from home for school lunches.
If any schools around you are struggling to keep up with food shortage, please try and donate to them. It would be a big help to the school and everyone within it.