Aron Maberry thought his daughter was joking when she arrived from Clarksville High with news of her school lunch.
Four chicken nuggets and one tangerine, served in a plastic bag.
“She came home and described how she got chicken nuggets, but in reduced quantities,” Maberry said.
Problems in the national food supply chain have spilled over into the school system lunches in Clarksville-Montgomery County. The cold truth about hot meals is that burgers and hot dogs are served with tortillas, flatbreads and wraps, even crackers. The salad components are distributed individually in plastic bags instead of meal trays.
The neighborhood serves more than 150,000 meals per week.
At a September 28 school board meeting, Acting Director of Schools Angela Huff said nationwide, significant shortages and supply chain disruptions are creating last-minute menu changes inevitable changes and changes to school district serving trays and utensils.
“Menu selections can be unconventional,” Huff said.
Meals will continue to be served daily at no cost to students, she added.
Despite the national dilemma, authorities are reassuring local residents that midday meals will continue to be free, USDA approved, and properly portioned.
‘Menu selections may be unconventional.’
Maberry said her daughter April, who brings lunch to school, has come home in recent weeks to ask for more snacks than usual.
She brings them for friends.
“She came to see us and asked to buy more snacks that she could bring to school to give to her friends because her friends who don’t necessarily have the option to cook lunches at home have hungry, ”said Aron Maberry.
With the shortages, replacements for unconventional meal trays are implemented, such as bagging all items without trays. And the traditional sides are replaced with what is available.
Child Nutrition Department Director Says Funding Not A Factor, Nor Is Lack Of Staff
Would meals return to normal if CMCSS resumed payment for lunch?
Child nutrition director Shane Tarkington said funding was not the issue.
“Although the district experienced an approximate 12% increase in costs over the cost of meals before the pandemic, that is not what is contributing to the supply disruptions,” Tarkington said.
“There is nothing unique about what we are going through other than what everyone else is going through. It is the same across the country.”
Related: “The toughest year”: CMCSSs offer bonuses to tackle growing shortage of bus drivers
While there are several opportunities for child nutrition assistants and cafeteria workers, it is not as bad as the shortages of bus drivers or district substitutes, and it is not contributing to product disruptions.
Food vendor options
According to Tarkington, the predominant supplier to the schools is Gordon Food Services, a national supplier who has worked with the district for more than eight years. He mentioned that the district also buys directly from manufacturers like Tyson Foods.
Although the CMCSS has contracts with vendors, they are exploring alternative vendors and options, Huff said at the September meeting, adding that many vendors are not accepting new high volume customers – because they are working for supply existing customers.
Lunch at home, no third party deliveries
Recently, the department received about 10 lunch-related complaints from student tutors, Tarkington said.
He said the complaints were related to photos of school lunches on social media, bagged and showing a lack of variety.
“The portions are portioned according to what the guidelines require us to provide,” he said. “We haven’t reduced the portion sizes.”
Tarkington also said the department had not noticed an increase in school lunches brought from home.
Can third-party delivery services bring food to students in CMCSS schools?
No, said CMCSS spokesperson Anthony Johnson. Accepting third-party deliveries would introduce many non-custodial visitors into the school environment, presenting safety concerns, Johnson said.
But there is a solution.
“Students can bring meals and parents / guardians can deliver meals to schools,” Johnson said.
The department spends a lot of time dealing with product and supply substitutions or moving products to accommodate menu changes, Tarkington said.
It’s unclear how long the food supply issue will impact the CMCSS, but Tarkington said he was proud of his team working to stay ahead of supply disruptions, while continuing to provide free and USDA approved meals.
Alexis Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 931-217-8519. Follow her on Twitter @Lexclark_. To support his work, get a digital subscription to TheLeafChronicle.com.