JCPS Lunch Line Generic

Students get their lunch at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. Oct. 19, 2021. (WDRB Photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The ongoing supply chain crisis has hit school cafeterias across the country and in the Louisville area. 

Teri Nichols, nutrition manager at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in the Shawnee neighborhood, said the ongoing supply chain disruptions have made serving 500 meals a day somewhat of a challenge.

"I've been at the school board 23 years. I've been a manager for 18. This is the worst I've ever seen it," Nichols said. "In the morning, I meet with who is doing what and I tell them what we are changing and what we will be having."

There's even a note at the top of the school's online menu which reminds students and parents to be prepared for last-minute menu changes.

"It's part of nutrition service," Nichols said. "It's been going on since last year."

So although Tuesday's lunch menu included broccoli florets and fresh bananas, there were some last-minute substitutions.

"We did the sweet bell peppers, and the kids love them," Nichols said.

Dan Ellnor, assistant director of Jefferson County Public Schools' nutrition services, said the labor issues are the root cause of the supply chain crisis.

"We have 147 locations. I mean, it's something different every day. The school staff handles it excellently," Ellnor said. "So either you don't have the labor to produce the raw product, you don't have the labor to load the product on to the truck, you don't have the labor to truck it to where it needs to go, so on and so forth. That's really the essentials of the problem."

Ellnor said in other parts of the country, things are a lot worse.

"I've heard from colleagues from Alabama that may be at risk of having to go back to virtual because they don't have staff to serve or they don't have food to serve," he said. "We are not in that situation. We will continue to serve kids."

JCPS also feeds virtual students through its central production facility.

"We will feed kids where ever they are," Ellnor said.

Despite the last-minute menu changes, the staff at King hasn't had many complaints, and every student is getting a full meal.

"We are feeding kids. We are just asking parents and staff to be patient with us as we work through this," Ellnor said. "And we are going to continue to feed kids."

Even though there are weekly adjustments to the menu, the students at King seem to roll with the changes.

"The kids don't notice," Nichols said.

But the substitutions aren't the only challenge the lunchroom staff is facing these days.

"We have to think of food allergies, the calories, the sodium," Nichols said. "There's a lot more to it than people really realize."

Although it's still several months away, those in charge of food and nutrition at JCPS are already placing orders and preparing for next school year.

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