Atlanta Schools Forced To Adjust As Food Shortages Hit Cafeterias

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The nationwide supply chain issues are hitting metro Atlanta school cafeterias, forcing officials adjust in how student meals are served. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some schools are also experiencing staff shortages, adding to the growing situation.

Despite limited options for pizza, and a scarcity of French toast sticks, schools have been able to feed all students, reworking menus and adjusting meal times. But, officials aren't sure how long they'll be affected by food supply and staff shortages.

"I'm optimistic, but I will say .... the manufacturers have told me that it will get worse before it gets better," Alyssia Wright, executive director of school nutrition for Fulton County Schools told the newspaper. "We are still here taking care of their kids, making sure that they have healthy foods available."

Fulton County is Georgia's fourth-largest district and, like others, received federal waivers to provide meals to all students –– regardless of income level –– at no cost.

In August and September, the district served 719,210 breakfast meals and over 1.6 million lunches, representing significant increases from the pre-pandemic numbers in 2019.

A shortage of cafeteria workers, truck drivers, and warehouse workers is also adding to the situation, officials say.

Schools are sharing cafeteria staff workers and the central nutrition team is also helping out, Wright said. Some bus drivers are pulling double duty in between their morning and afternoon routes due to staffing shortages.

When Cobb County ran out of meal trays, cafeteria staff cut salad containers in half to serve students out of. Officials have ordered alternatives, introducing different produce, like plums and tangerines for mealtime.

To address the shortage, the AJC reports Fulton is offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus and pay starting at $12.18 an hour.

The union that represents school food workers says it's not enough and the issues date before the pandemic hit.

"They're overworked. They're quite exhausted," explained Humeta Embry, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1644 said. "It puts a level of stress and burden on them that they haven't seen before."

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