Missouri school districts scrambling to feed students as vendors struggle with labor, product shortages

(The Center Square) – Some school districts throughout Missouri are struggling to feed students as food vendors struggle with supply chain issues and labor shortages.

Kohl Wholesale, a food supplier for the Hickman Mills School District near Kansas City, gave notice it would end its relationship with the district in November due to a shortage of employees and truck drivers, according to a report on WDAF television.

“We don’t have a way to ensure that we get food,” Grennan Sims, director of nutrition services at Hickman Mills, told WDAF.

The report said North Kansas City, Independence, Park Hill and Liberty school districts also were alerted about food supply shortages and vendors cancelling contracts.

“Like districts around our region, around our state and around our country, Park Hill’s nutrition services program is suffering major setbacks from the hiring crisis,” Ronda McCullick, director of nutrition services, wrote in the Park Hill School District employee newsletter.

McCullick wrote the district received warnings of food shortages for her district’s 12,000 students in 18 schools.

“This summer, the state of Missouri let us know that we would not be getting 716 cases of fruits, vegetables, turkey, beef, ham, burgers, cheese, flour and pasta that we counted on from the commodity foods program for August and September,” McCullick wrote. “Because this affects all Missouri schools, districts are trying to find other food distributors. However, distributors are experiencing both food and labor shortages, so they can’t fulfill all their existing orders.”

McCullick wrote the district’s food vendor cancelled its delivery last week, resulting in a “scramble for other food to feed our students, and they told us to look for other distributors, since they could not guarantee future food deliveries.”

Park Hill and other districts are tapping into stockpiles of food kept in district warehouses. While they’re looking for other vendors and distributors, they’re purchasing food from retail stores. Menus are being revised and some items eliminated.

“We have signage that we put up in all our schools and the cafeteria just letting people know that due to supplier shortages, some items may not be available,” Onye Hollomon, a spokesman for the Ferguson-Florissant School District, told KWMU.

Hickman Mills appealed to the community to donate disposable cutlery, hand sanitizer and hand soap, and individually wrapped snack items in bulk. The district and North Kansas City is working with Sam’s Club, Costco and other grocery stores and retailers to buy food. Liberty School District altered its contract with a local restaurant to get daily deliveries of pizza. Some districts are asking parents to send a lunch with students.

“We’re also contacting government officials to see if we can put some incentives in place for those distributors that prioritize schools and prioritize kids,” Sims said.

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