Nationwide supply chain shortage impacts some Upstate school cafeterias; districts find solutions

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PICKENS COUNTY, SC (WSPA)–A nationwide supply chain shortage is impacting some Upstate cafeterias, as students prepare to head back to school. 

Some school districts, like the School District of Pickens County said the nationwide supply shortage has caused some stocking issues with certain foods and serving items. However, districts said they’re making adjustments to ensure it all works out this year.

“So, last year we actually saw a lot of shortages already on some products, and I think this year, it seems to be getting a little bit worst,” said Dylan McCullough, Director of Marketing & Communications at Anderson School District Three.

“We definitely do have a nationwide shortage of supplies. It actually started last school year. They’ve probably been able to catch up a little bit over the summer, however, we just received an email yesterday that they are anticipating that same shortage again this school year,” said Jenaffer Pitt, Director of Student Nutrition Services at the School District of Pickens County.  

Pitt said things like disposable or paper plates, forks, and sporks, could be in short supply this year.

“Last year, we didn’t use trays that you would send through a dish machine. We used disposable foam trays, because kids took their meals to the classroom. Spork and fork kits, had like the fork, the napkin, the straw already in it, we were not able to get those at the end of the school year. So, we had to individually get bulk material and just wrap our own folks, and napkins, and straws for the kids,” Pitt said.

To preserve what they currently have, Pitt said they will start the year using plastic washable trays. Anderson School District Three said it will also use hard trays this year.

“We’ve also been told that the supply of the disposal lunch trays are basically non-existent at the moment, and so a lot of the plants have switched their supply over to the to-go boxes. And so they haven’t switched back to making the disposable trays. So, that supply and demand is messed up as well. So, it looks like we will be using our hard plastic trays that we have, but all of our schools don’t have those. So, we may have to use bag lunches and those to-go options, if we can’t get the disposable trays,” McCullough said.

Anderson School District Three and Five said there has also been difficulty securing poultry products like chicken.

“We see that a lot of products are not even being made this year, because the plants don’t have enough workers to make those products that are really specifically for K through 12 lunch options that the plants make. And so, a lot of those companies are not even making it because they don’t have the staff in the plants to run the lines,” McCullough said.

“We have seen this-biggest noticeable thing we have witnessed is, it is difficult to secure poultry products, and also canned fruit products. We are able to make it work with some adjustments, and our vendor, U.S. Foods has been able to supply us with similar items as replacements,” said Kyle Newton, Assistant Superintendent for Anderson School District Five.

“So currently, we are planning to use and menu our items as normal. U.S. Foods is our distributor, and they have a lot of products so that if we are not able to utilize that, we typically use off of what we call a bid, then we are able to substitute some items if they do not have something in stock. Pitt said. “If they run into the problem where they don’t have chicken at all, then no one is going to be able to do chicken, but I don’t think we’ll be to that level. I just think we’ll just have to make some menu changes based off of what the availability is,” Pitt said.

“There are a lot of other options. We just won’t have as many options on the menu. We just won’t have many variations of products, but we’ll still have lunch options, just not as many options,” McCullough said.

Districts said there’s no need to worry, as they’re working through the issues. The districts said all children will be fed this year for every meal.

“I feel like we’ve done well. I feel like we’ve adjusted and been able to make modifications either to our menu or to the way that we serve, and so when there’s a roadblock, my answer is that it’s not that you stop, you find a different way. And so that’s what we do, we find a different way.” Pitt said. “Parents, we’re going to feed your students healthy, nutritious meals every day of the school year, so you do not have to worry about that.”

Pickens County school officials also said they have breakfast and lunch items for parents with students at home throughout the week.

All of the districts mentioned above, will be providing all students with free breakfast and lunch this year.

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