Lunch line

The Union R-XI School District had been lucky in avoiding food shortages caused by supply chain issues so far, but officials say that is starting to change.

“Usually, our delivery trucks, if they have something that’s not going to be supplied, they give us a substitution,” Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Mabe told the board at its Nov. 17 meeting. “This week ... the truck showed up, (and) this item was no longer on there.”

In a Facebook post earlier Nov. 17, the district notified families of the disruption, which has forced some last-minute menu changes.

The Facebook post included a link to a video from the School Nutrition Association explaining that, when schools started closing because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, demand for food decreased. That meant food manufacturers cut employees and eliminated products.

But with things reopening “all at once,” demand has outpaced supply, according to the video. That impacts everything from availability of trays to staffing, with Union R-XI being down several cooks.

Mabe asked for the community’s understanding that some items children might be familiar with could be substituted out, so the school lunch menu they use at home might not be up to date. “I hate it, because I know how important it is to look at a menu and decide, ‘Well, are the kids going to pack lunch today, or are they going to eat school lunch?’ ” he said. “But unfortunately, it’s just a sign of the times, and now, it’s dipping into the school a little bit.”

After the meeting, Mabe said the items the district had the most trouble getting in was deli meat. That impacts the sub sandwiches popular with students.

“It kind of caught us off guard because there wasn’t any notice,” he said.

The district can’t just go to the store to buy more food because the stores might not have enough available, Mabe said. Plus, items the school orders must meet dietary guidelines, and it must have items available for kids with conditions like diabetes and food allergies.

“We’re going to have to put our heads together to try to figure it out,” he said.