HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) – The kids at Ridge Hill Elementary in Hamden always get lunch, they just don’t always know what it’s going to be.
“In the previous years, they would put the menu out for the month and that was the menu for the month, but that is just not the case now,” said Stacie D’Antonio, Ridge Hill School principal.
The reason for the uncertainty is the supply chain. These days, Hamden schools never know if what they order will actually arrive.
“We do our ordering on say Friday. Tuesday will come and had ordered 700 items, and we’ll get 350 items,” said Tom Ariola, Hamden Schools Chief Financial Officer.
The problem is not just with Hamden schools. They’re dealing with the same thing in Meriden.
“For instance, we have problems with things like egg patties. This week, we’re actually having trouble getting bottled water from one of our distributors,” said Susan Maffe, Meriden public schools’ director of food and nutrition services.
Experts say the supply is so unpredictable because the chain is broken in so many places.
“It’s not just simply one bottleneck. It’s a bottleneck or issues straight throughout the supply chain,” said Brian Marks, Senior Lecturer at the University of New Haven Department of Economic & Analytics.
It’s mostly a people problem. There are shortages of workers to grow, pick, and process food, make the food packaging, work in the warehouse, and bring it to you.
“It’s trucking, it’s somebody being able to pick the stuff to put it on the truck. The labor shortages are unbelievable,” Maffe said.
The pandemic also changed shipping patterns, leaving freighters stranded at sea with no room to dock in our ports.
“The company that we currently buy our juice boxes from has had to stop production because their supplies to package the product are on those container ships that are sitting out there,” Maffe said.
“We had weaknesses in our environment and the pandemic compounded certain weaknesses,” Marks said.
“The supply chain for the food is one thing, but it’s everything that’s affecting the Hamden Public Schools,” Ariola said.
Including staffing, Ridge Hill is shorthanded in the lunchroom and everywhere else.
“But we’re all helping everybody, so if there’s a shortage in the café. If there’s a shortage of a sub, who’s helping for a sub today,” D’Antonio said.
All of that takes a toll on the workers. Even when school was canceled or remote, school cafeterias were still turning out grab-and-go meals, sometimes even on the weekends. It has not been easy.
“Everything that’s going on with the supply chain makes their job, or the changes that they have to incur just that much harder, so be kind on your launch ladies,” Maffe said.