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Supply chain crunch impacting school meals in Frenchtown

Sack lunches kitchen
Posted at 4:12 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 18:45:06-05

FRENCHTOWN — Everyone should know by now that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global supply chain. A survey from the U.S. Census Bureau last August shows 38.8% of small businesses reported domestic supplier delays.

Schools in Western Montana are also feeling the pinch of the supply chain crunch. Beyond the lunch line at Frenchtown Elementary School, life moves fast, and time is precious.

“We’re getting that prep done for the following day, the day before,” explained Frenchtown School District Food Service Director Mike Spencer.

The elementary school kitchen staff consists of six people on a normal day, but the kitchen hasn’t seen a normal day in months.

“It's six to seven of us. So, we've been running on four which works. I mean we just have to step it up another notch and we get it done,” Spencer said.

They have mouths to feed with 700 lunches and 600 breakfasts served every day all across the Frenchtown School District.

We asked Spencer just how critical the school food service is for students.

“Really critical because food plays an important role for a student. When a student does not eat, they have a generally it shows that they're less attentive in class. Their grades go down.”

School is sometimes the only place a child gets a well-balanced meal but issues in the supply chain have left Mike Spencer scrambling -- making last minute adjustments to the menu, subbing out foods, and stretching his creativity.

“Today, I didn’t get sliced ham and it’s on our menu next week because we’re usually a week out on our order, so we were able to get turkey so we’re switching it to turkey melts instead of ham melts,” Spencer noted.

He also noted that supply chain woes delay more than what’s in the sack lunch.

“It took me almost four months -- three to four months -- to receive a milk cooler in the high school. The milk cooler went out.”

Spencer anticipates the rest of the semester to be the same game of hurry up and wait — adjust and make do.

“I would suspect if we don't see any more COVID-19 variants that probably next year or halfway into next school year will maybe see some normalcy,” Spencer said.

But in the end, that will all be up to the COVID-19 pandemic.