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South Carolina schools face food supply chain disruptions

Schools across the Midlands are struggling to feed their students due to supply chain disruptions and food service vacancies heighten this issue.

Schools in the Midlands are facing challenges with feeding their students due to food shortages from their suppliers.

The USDA is sending $1.5 billion dollars to schools to help alleviate supply chain disruptions. Many schools are experiencing food shortages for their school meal programs and have vacancies within their cafeteria staff.

Richland One reports it is one of several schools experiencing these issues.

“Sometimes we don’t know when an item is going to be short until it’s time to receive it. Sometimes we do receive notifications from the vendor, but it’s a number of different things at different times," said Richland One Director of Nutrition.

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Nixon said some of these items include chicken, pizza, and plant based products. Lexington-Richland Five said it has shortages with paper products, canned veggies, poultry, and beef.

Sumter and Orangeburg schools have also reported shortages in its supply. Many of these schools have had to make modifications to their menus.

“One of the things that we have to quickly do is modify the menu, so that again, it meets the federal guidelines, it’s something that the kids will like, it’s something that’s complimenting the items that are already on the menu," said Nixon.

Orangeburg also reports it has had to make adjustments.

"While the continued impact of the pandemic on the food supply chain has resulted in some food shortages, our vendors have done their very best in those instances to substitute with a comparable item," said Orangeburg Assistant Superintendent Merry Piccolino.

Lexington-Richland Five has had to restrict its menu for this same reason.

"Our menus are more “streamlined” and we are having to offer fewer choices," said Executive Director of Operations Todd Bedenbaugh.

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Dixon said this has especially presented challenges when dealing with children who are diabetic or have hypertension because they depend on this nutrition.

“It requires some planning but we do have some processes, some systems in place, to make sure that we try to stay as true and close to those menu items as possible," she said.

To make matters worse, many of these school cafeterias are operating understaffed.

Richland One's food service staff is currently short-handed by 38 percent, which is about 80 vacancies. Orangeburg reported nine vacancies, Lexington-Richland Five has reported a few, and Sumter said it is dealing with several as well. 

Richland One said in spite of these obstacles, it is making sure the needs of the children are met.

“Sometimes we don’t know, when our kids leave on Friday, if they’re gonna have any meals over the weekend, or what kind of meals they’re gonna have over the weekend, and so we wanna make sure that when they come that they have what they need.”

RELATED: USDA extends free school lunch for all students to June 2022