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Natomas Unified Battles Food Supply Chain Issues

Cheese ravioli and breadsticks prepared by Natomas Unified School District Nutrition Services. / Photo via Twitter

By Christopher Loupeda
Copy Editor | The Pacific Times

Due to a brand-new law in California, NP3 Middle and High both have free lunches and breakfast for all.

Senate Bill 364 requires schools provide two meals which are “nutritiously adequate” for consumption. This new legislation is a reaction to the 8 million Californians who experienced food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The removal of payment is also meant to help break the stigma around receiving free and reduced lunch.

While affordability of school lunch is no longer a concern, the supply line for school lunches is an issue.

The School Nutrition Association has made it clear that there is a national school food shortage.

“Not only is there a shortage of supplies from the manufacturers but a shortage of drivers from our vendors to deliver food,” said Vince Caguin, the executive director of nutrition services for the Natomas Unified School District which provides meals for NP3.

Natomas Unified’s food is provided by Gold Star Foods and Sysco Foods. Sysco Foods, in particular, is experiencing hardships, according to Caguin.

“Major distributors such as Sysco, which we use, are suddenly giving cease letters to certain districts because of food and driver shortages,” said Caguin.

According to Gold Star Foods, “There are so many factors impacting manufacturer supply now,” but the main issues were a lack of labor in the nutrition business, COVID-19 delays and restrictions, and an increase of price for items sourced outside of the United States.

At NP3, this has resulted in a repetitive lunch menu and sudden substitutions of foods.

Natomas Unified’s nutrition services reports a surplus in funds because they served 2.1 million meals last year during the pandemic, as opposed to their normal 1.1 million meals. This gives Natomas Unified the capability to respond to the food supply shortage.

“With all these uncertain times, we just want the stability,” said Doug Orr, associate superintendent of Natomas Unified, in the context of the food shortage.

The school district has identified ways to address the impact of the national shortage on the school district.

According to Caguin, Natomas Unified has attempted “adding vendors, trying to make more items in house, buying direct from farmers and producers, buying direct from manufacturers, and switching to a shorter menu.”

Special thanks to Johanna Mitschan, the school cafeteria worker who assisted in the accuracy of this article.

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