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Hampton Roads school divisions impacted by food supply chain issues

Almost every Hampton Roads school division said they're seeing a problem when it comes to their distributors not delivering enough food.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Author's note: the video above is on file from February 2021.

There’s another impact of the nationwide supply chain dysfunction. Ships are backed up at two major US ports off the California coast, which means it may take longer for you to get the items you need.

The consequences are hitting nearly every industry, even schools.

Portsmouth Public School leaders are doing what they can to keep children fed.

“When possible, the division is getting substitute items from vendors," officials said. "Staff is also utilizing USDA products (again when possible) to fill in for items that are out of stock or delayed in shipping. Food Services is adjusting menus as needed as well.”

Nutrition administrators across Hampton Roads are scrambling to get healthy meals on the table for students.

“I looked into it and I was like this is actually a nationwide problem,” explained Amber Bowmer, a parent of two children at Chesapeake Public Schools.

It boils down to this: school division leaders are having a difficult time getting the food they ordered from their distributors.

"I know that it's hard," Bowmer said. "It's hard for everyone. It's hard for our parents, it's hard for the students. It's hard for the people who work in the cafeteria."

Bowmer has been packing her kid’s lunches because of the issues.

"It's a little extra labor on that end, and of course you want it to be nutritionally sound, so it's making sure that they get the well-valued meals that they need for their growing bodies," she said.

Chesapeake school leaders say the problem started back in August. They told 13News Now they have enough food for students, but the supply issues are causing them to regularly adjust the school menus.

“If we know in advance, we can make the adjustments, but what we are starting to find out is the window is shrinking. The notices are not coming that much, and, in some cases, the product is not available period,” explained Director of School Nutrition Services, Larry Wade Sr.

Wade said CPS has a warehouse, which allows them to keep a stock of certain items.

“If something happens with a menued item, we would normally switch to something else in stock,” Wade said.

Wade said he's doing everything he can to make sure students get a well-balanced meal every day. Bowmer hopes the problem goes away soon.

"Like we have learned throughout this entire pandemic, we need to give everyone grace and be patient," she said. "It's just a practice of patience for all of us."

Chesapeake school leaders said they don’t know when this food supply issue will end, but said some people expect it could last more than a year.

Here's what some Hampton Roads school divisions had to say about the problem:

Lisa M. Winter, Senior Director of School Nutrition Services at Norfolk Public Schools

Supply chain issues have affected Norfolk Public Schools as well as schools across the state and nation. 

School Nutrition staff has remained flexible to make menu changes nearly every day, either because we cannot get the items we’d planned to serve in sufficient quantity, or because shipments are delayed. We have filled shortages by using substitute items, purchasing from alternate vendors, and by shopping in local stores. Supply chain issues have led to less variety, and school nutrition is paying higher prices. (All students in NPS are eligible to receive breakfast and lunch every day at no cost to their household under the USDA’s Community Eligibility Provision.)

Although we have pared down our menus significantly from what they were pre-pandemic, we have been able to continue to offer students a choice of nutritious menu items, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and to meet meal pattern requirements through the use of USDA waivers.

NPS is fortunate to have a central warehouse that we use to stock up on products during the summer months, as well as our own trucks and drivers that deliver to each school daily, reducing our dependence on local distributors. However, in addition to facing shortages of food supplies, we are experiencing difficulties sourcing disposable items such as food containers, cutlery, plastic bags for food, and trash bags.

Hampton Public Schools:

The impact has primarily been in the area of ordering non-food items/supplies (e.g., utensils, food trays, to-go containers). In the past we have ordered our non-food supplies from one vendor. To ensure we are keeping up with the supply-demand, we now use multiple vendors and on occasions have had to order from Amazon when items have been out of stock with our vendors.

From the food perspective, we have had to switch a few menu items around in regard to name brands. For example, if our vendor is out of Tyson chicken, we may order Perdue chicken or vice versa. US Foods has been working hand-in-hand with Hampton City Schools to provide items that we have on our menu. If menu items become unavailable at the last moment, US Foods has found comparable replacements/substitutes for such items (such as a whole apple vs. sliced apples or cauliflower vs. broccoli) to ensure HCS is meeting our USDA guidelines as well as providing our students nutritious meals.

Virginia Beach City Public Schools:

There are national labor shortages impacting many businesses, and the food industry has been hit especially hard. These issues are finding their way into our K-12 food service as suppliers and manufacturers struggle to meet demand. Local distributors are frequently unable to deliver full orders. Items such as paper trays and to-go containers, produce, beef, chicken and milk have all been subject to shortages, and we sometimes learn about them on delivery day. That means an occasional quick change on the menu in order to continue to provide healthy and complete meals for our students. We appreciate your patience as we work through these issues.