No Chilli Crispitos. No more corn dogs. Students in Alabama are getting the 101 in the lunchroom on how vital the nation’s infrastructure and logistics are.
While schools have not seen crisis conditions, students are seeing some of their menus losing items and irregular meal schedules.
On Oct. 13, Students at Saraland Elementary School published a tongue-in-cheek parody video of “End of the Road” by Boyz 2 Men where they lamented the end of their beloved Chilli Crispito — a rolled tortilla filled with chicken and cheese. The menu item will not be shipped by Tyson for the rest of the year due to a shortage of tortillas and workers.
“Given high demand and supply challenges, some varieties of Crispitos are currently unavailable. We are working hard to return the beloved staple to schools and other foodservice locations by early 2022,” Tyson Foods said in a statement to AL.com in August.
The comedic clip by Saraland Elementary was the brainchild of teacher Scott Parks. “We understand the pandemic and why Tyson is doing what they are doing, we just want them to know how special they are to all the kids in school,” Parks told Lagniappe.
Child Nutrition Programs all over the state and nation have been experiencing food shortages and delivery delays all related to the pandemic, according to Baldwin County Public Schools Child Nutrition Program (CNP) Coordinator Erin Miller, who oversees meal preparation in more than 40 school locations in her district.
“We have reduced our menus to a two-week cycle for the time being in order to focus on serving what we are more certain we can get in,” the coordinator said. Food suppliers can notify the school system weeks in advance of unavailable products. However, sometimes schools don’t know until the week before. Corn dogs have been one item that has been completely removed from the menu. “We could not get them,” Miller said.
Depending on the day and the inventory, Miller said schools are not allowing seconds or a la carte purchases.
Miller said her system’s schools have seen trucking delays and some have gone weeks without any deliveries. Single use paper supplies are in short supply as well, so lunchrooms have prioritized meals that require fewer paper products to serve, such as sandwiches and finger food. Miller said these are the more popular menu items, so there isn’t much discontent.
Supply chain issues aren’t the only factor, either. Miller says more students are eating lunch at school due to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s free lunch waiver as well as students returning to campuses from virtual schools. Before the waiver was in place and before COVID-19, Miller said Baldwin County schools were serving 18,000 students for lunch and 4,000 for breakfast. The system is now serving an average of 19,500 lunches each day and around 4,500 breakfasts.
CNP staff shortages are another problem. Miller noted that schools are actively advertising jobs for CNP staff in Baldwin County schools. Since the beginning of the school year, she said people have stepped in to fill open shifts and some workers have been pulling double shifts to ensure the work gets done.
“We’ve even had a principal helping serve food when a cafeteria worker had to be out,” Miller said. “It’s a team effort. The CNP staff are working very hard to make the meals appealing and pleasing to the students, despite the hardships. Our ultimate goal is to provide each student with a nourishing meal to get them through the school day.”
Some school systems have had more difficulties than others. Alexander City Schools asked parents to consider having students bring their own lunch to school.
Political commentators criticized the Alabama State School Board over the shortages for lacking a plan to handle the problem while simultaneously addressing other issues, such as teaching Critical Race Theory in public schools.
District 5 State School Board Member Tonya Chestnut, whose district reaches down into Mobile County, told Lagniappe that she understands that the challenges with school food distribution are due to a shortage of truck drivers. She said she didn’t hear about any issues from her superintendents until last week. “If it was a problem, no one called,” Chestnut said.
Jackie Ziegler, who serves as the District 1 State School Board member and represents the majority of Mobile and Baldwin counties, told the newspaper that though the issue is just now becoming controversial in the news, she was reassured by State Superintendent of Education Eric Mackey during a Thursday meeting that those issues have already been resolved. According to Ziegler, schools with more challenging circumstances have been able to pivot and begin proactive efforts to get food from warehouses to their campuses, such as sending employees out directly to pick up shipments.
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