School lunch distributors terminating contracts due to labor shortage

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As labor shortages across the nation continue, one particular shortage may be a cause of concern for those with children in schools across the state.

Cash-wa foods distributes food to many school districts across North Dakota, but labor shortages have caused them to drop contracts across the state.

This is particularly a problem in the rural school districts.

Linda Schloer, Director of Child Nutrition & Food Distribution, said, “When you look at a small rural district, most of those kids eat at school, whereas maybe in like Bismarck or Fargo, they have other options.”

The North Dakota Educators Services Cooperative covers 102 school districts in the state, with a school foods cooperative as part of their services.

“Of those 102, there’s about 30 to 40 still that have not lined up a distributor to replace the one that was lost with the contract,” said Schloer.

Medina is one of them, and they are scrambling to find another distributor.

Superintendent Damon Bosche said that he has most recently contacted Henry’s Foods, which primarily services restaurants and grocery stores.

This brings up a whole new set of challenges.

Bosche said, “The issue that we have there is that they don’t meet all the child nutrition guidelines that all of our other distributors do.”

Some of those guidelines include sodium content, utilizing whole grain, and offering a variety of fruits and vegetables, among others.

Concerns of funding have also arisen among school leaders if these criteria are not met, but Schloer says the shortages may allow for schools to apply for waivers.

“If we were to find something that wouldn’t meet those guidelines for schools, we would not be taking back any money or they would not lose any of the reimbursement,” said Schloer.

Amid these challenges, Bosche said they are working to find other vendors, but other schools are trying to contact those same vendors, which can cause a bottleneck effect.

He said, “We’re not having a lot of luck right now, but we’re doing our best.”

Medina School District’s contract with Cash-Wa is set to expire November 2nd.

Schloer said these problems with the distributors are estimated to affect between 3 to 5 thousand students.

She said that she is optimistic that the schools will get food to the students one way or the other, but it will not be as easy.

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