The Child Nutrition Program (CNP) in the Thomasville City School District is having to navigate the issue of food supply shortages due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
School officials became aware of the problem at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, said Emily Thornton, CNP director. However, because the Thomasville school system began school before many systems in the country, “it didn’t get very prominent until September.”
Items on the local school menu most affected include hamburger, croissants, and hot dog buns.
Otherwise, “we have not had many issues. …We missed one truck three-weeks-ago. We were able to adapt. It is not a crisis for us here.”
In north Alabama, there has been a shortage of “Crispitos” tortilla rolls, which those students enjoy.
Thornton is able to buy supplies at the local Walmart to fill in shortages. In addition, “I have a secondary distributor, where I can get some of my missing items,” she said.
CNP has also had trouble getting disposable trays, which have been used a lot during the pandemic. “We used to pay $40 for a case….They are now at $100 for the same trays.”
“I believe we will be dealing with this until the end of the school year,” she said. There is a shortage of truck drivers nationwide. Additionally, distributors and suppliers are experiencing labor shortages. Due to labor issues, one popular food manufacturer recently announced its decision to exit their canned soup business to focus on its other products. The Thomasville CNP will have to get soup from a secondary source, she said.
Thornton is a member of the Alabama Department of Education state-wide procurement committee. The committee plans and approves products listed on the state-wide bid on behalf of the Alabama School districts. Thornton is fortunate to hear about food shortage issues rather quickly. Her participation in the procurement committee gives her insight to help ensure that the students in Alabama will continue to receive nutritious meals. It also helps her forecast and plan how to meet the nutritious needs of Thomasville City School’s students.
“Our mission is to feed the children,” Thornton said. She has a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to get her supplies wherever she needs to. Despite that flexibility, Thornton must be careful to keep within her budget, which has not changed in the pandemic.
The local system also has capable CNP managers at Thomasville Elementary School (Katherine Dumas) and Thomasville Middle School/High School (Gachel Martin), who must adapt to sudden situations. Thornton is grateful for the dedication and hard work of the entire child nutrition team under adverse conditions.
The TES lunchroom recently had a fire, which damaged one of the serving lines. On that day, the high school staff prepared meals for all three schools in the system and kept things pretty much on schedule, Thornton said.
Because of the pandemic, it may take several months to receive new serving line equipment. Right now, the TES lunchroom staff is borrowing a serving line from TMS.