Schools all across the country are wrestling with how to educate children amid a worldwide pandemic. They’re also contending with feeding kids as inflation and supply chain problems disrupt their ability to serve meals.
While Tecumseh Public Schools continues to turn out meal after meal to make sure no student goes hungry, things haven’t been the easiest this school year.
“The menu may change here and there, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been able to serve lunch,” said Laura Pleasant, food service director for Tecumseh Public Schools.
TPS has struggled at times to source enough products for school cafeterias to serve. From shortages of food, the workers to heat it, plates to serve it on, it’s been a challenging, and at times, a stressful year. Thankfully, our food service team has been ahead of the curve, making sure we receive the product we need. That gives us enough lead time to make changes if necessary.
However, that may not be the case for other school districts in Michigan. State officials say schools all across the state are feeling the pinch.
“I think the biggest thing for everyone to remember right now is that the school food service directors are really trying,” said Diane Golzynski, director of Health and Nutrition Services for the Michigan Department of Education. “They’re really trying hard, and their hands are just tied between lack of staff and lack of ability to get the product.”
Despite the shortages that are happening right now, school meals will never be marked absent.
“Right now, it may be unrealistic to expect the menu not to change from what’s posted, but there will be food everyday of some kind that we will be able to serve the students,” said Pleasant.
Schools across the state are sourcing food wherever they can find it. To offset some of the troubles of finding products, food service at TPS has been able to purchase things like fresh fruit and vegetables from local vendors.
The food service staff has been spending their time at Ciolino’s in Temperance (Monroe County). Ciolino’s is a fresh fruit and vegetable market that specializes in a large assortment of food from northern and southern United States, as well as from around the world. The market has been extremely helpful in helping TPS with products and at a great price.
The supply chain problem is compounded by increases in student demand in many districts since Congress, in response to the pandemic, made breakfast and lunch free for all students this year.
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture announced it would be pumping in $750 million more into school meals programs nationwide as part of a mid-year adjustment to the reimbursement rate.
Reimbursement rates typically do not increase during the school year. But because of the pandemic, the agency is providing schools with funding based on rates for the summer food services program. That translated into a 15% bump in the rate for lunch for the current school year.