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Supply chain issues, labor challenges and free school meal policies were among the topics discussed during IFMA’s K-12 Live Conversation which took place on January 31. Moderated by IFMA’s Charlie McConnell, featured speakers included: Whitney Ellersick, senior director of nutrition services, Portland (OR) Public Schools; Eric Span, director of nutrition services for Sweetwater Public Schools, National City, CA; and Patrick Durgan, director of foodservice and executive chef for Bellingham Public Schools, Bellingham, WA.  


The three school districts serve approximately 45,000 meals per day and have combined annual foodservice purchases of $14.3 million. 


Supply challenges are easing, although all three districts are facing shortages from their major distributors. To solve the problem, they are relying more on local suppliers. “We have no issue with our local supply chain,” observed Durgan. All three want to do more scratch and semi-scratch cooking but do not have the labor to accomplish that.  


“We are faced with an impossible math problem when doing our budgeting,” said Ellersick. “We are unsure of supplies and labor. We need to collaborate more with our distributor and manufacturer partners to solve the problems.” 


There was much discussion about Community Eligibility Provision, also known as CEPs. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a non-pricing meal service option for schools and school districts in low-income areas. CEP allows the nation’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.  


“CEP allows us to focus on buying and preparing food rather than focusing on a family’s financial situation,” said Ellersick.  


Span added, “CEP creates space for us to invest in food, people and equipment.” 


All three believe food should be provided at no cost to students. Span commented, “We provide free books and free computers. But if a student is hungry, they will not learn.”