School cooks prepared to get creative as supply issues continue

Hunter Herbaugh Ranger-review Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2021
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Hunter Herbaugh photo (L to R) Washington Middle School cooks Melissa Marley, Cheryl Unruh and Wenda Wynia prepare lunch for the students on Monday, Oct. 25. As supply shortages continue affecting the food supplies for local schools, food service workers have had to be creative with menus.

As pandemic-era supply shortages continue, school cafeterias are now feeling the pinch as food and some supplies are becoming increasingly difficult to get. The situation hasn’t become an emergency just yet, however it has left the schools’ food workers having to adjust menus and plans on the fly.

According to the district’s Food Services Manager Anne Sadorf, the issue hasn’t become dire, though it has certainly made the job of the district’s food service workers harder. The schools use a number of vendors, including local sources, however the main vendor for the district is U.S. Foods.

“Is it a huge problem? We’re not running out of food if that’s the question, but it makes it a bit difficult because we don’t always know,” she said. “I’ve had a number of messages in the last couple days that the chocolate milk that we order 20 dozen of aren’t going to be available and they’re looking for a substitute but they don’t have a substitute, so therefore we have to come up with a substitute. It’s not dire or anything like that, we don’t want anybody to go ‘the sky is falling,’ that’s not it at all, but it is significant.”

According to Washington Middle School Head Cook Cheryl Unruh, the shortages started becoming noticable around the beginning of September, with the deliveries of various items becoming less consistent. Some items not available earlier this year are now available, Unruh said she is uncertain if they will become scarce again and meanwhile, other items are still harder to aquire than they were previously.

“We couldn’t get corn for the longest time, we had to get frozen corn. We finally got the canned corn back in but I don’t know how long that’s going to last. I don’t even know how many they have in stock anymore. We just have to go with different meals, we’ve been changing the menu,” Unruh said.

Among items that have been more difficult to aquire are burgers, chicken and certain canned goods like corn and beans. These shortages aren’t limited to food either, as items like styrofoam trays that the school uses for breakfast have also become harder to obtain.

This has also meant that the cooks have been having more frequent meetings to adjust menus. The menus are prepared a month in advance, though with deliveries being unreliable, they’ve had to be prepared to make changes fairly quickly.

It is especially difficult for the cooks themselves to find alternative vendors, Unruh noted, as they are given an order guide that they have to stick to. They can’t search for a vendor that is not on that guide.

“I’ve tried to order as much as I can so I kind of have some of that in, because if they run out, we just flat out don’t have it, but who knows. We might just have to go to PB and J’s one day if this continues,” Unruh said. “We just try to go with the flow, and I’ve warned everybody here in the school and at Jefferson (Elementary School), this is what we have, we’ve had to change our menu and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This difficulty finding food has led to an increase in expense for the district as well, as the price of the food in general has gone up.

However, the price of food for the students has not gone up. The district also got a waiver last year from the state that allows them to provide free meals to students. Additionally, she noted that there is also still some funds from COVID-relief programs available to the schools.

“We don’t pass those on, and on top of that I’ve got a waiver with the state that allows us to provide meals to children for free. That has been a wonderful thing for our district because we still have a little bit of COVID money at the state level,” Sadorf said.

While it will be difficult to predict when these shortages may subside, Sadorf added that she is confident the district’s food workers will be able to get through this situation while continuing to provide for the students.

“Our cooks, and I will say this to anybody in the world, our cooks are second to none. They are incredible. They do the most fantastic job of feeding those kids. It’s just unbelievable what those women do,” she said.

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