KANSAS CITY, Mo. — School districts in the Kansas City area have been struggling with food supply shortages for months. Primary distributors dropped many of their contracts due to lack of employees before the start of the school year. This left nutrition services at local schools without viable options.
The Park Hill School District became one of those affected when its primary distributor, Kohl Wholesale, had to cut back on deliveries. It had already changed its nutrition services completely when COVID-19 hit, making the early September food supply shortage that much more complicated.
Director of Nutrition Services Ronda McCullick said the supply chain issue has gotten worse, but many school districts have found ways to cope.
“We thought we were going back to normal, but COVID had one more punch for us,” McCullick said.
McCullick and her staff are beating the current shortage to the punch. Stocking up their new warehouse back in July might have been the district’s saving grace. She had an inkling they could face some supply chain issues during this school year.
“We moved in here in January, three months before COVID hit. So it was a gift,” McCullick said. “If it weren’t for our freezer and our storage capacity, we would be in the same situation.”
Park Hill distributes about 8,000 meals a day. Local distributors and manufacturers are filling the void for now, but they will need to find a primary vendor long-term. McCullick is hopeful but thinks they will struggle through December.
“We’re doing everything we can to piece it together and make sure we have everything we need for our students,” McCullick said. “I’m hopeful that with a new year, comes a new source for our food, and that’ll make a huge difference for us.”
Warehouse manager Kristopher Luckett is making sure all the nutritional components are met at the storage unit. As a former nutrition manager, he saw firsthand how the supply chain interruption was affecting his students. Even during a supply shortage, he is making sure all of his students’ favorite items still make it to their plates.
He said the workload has increased a lot due to distributors and manufacturers dropping off their deliveries to the warehouse instead of directly making their shipments to school campuses.
“It’s been an adjustment period but same with the pandemic, it’s just something that we have to adapt to,” Luckett said.
Hickman Mills is still hoping to secure a vendor but says all the donations they have received filled their warehouse. North Kansas City has found a food distributor out of Iowa, and Liberty Schools has developed a plan to feed its students to the end of this school year.
University of Missouri’s Professor of Supply Chain Management Anthony Ross said the problems contributing to the break in supply chains are layered. Specifically for labor shortages, he said the reasons are twofold.
“People are starting to think about new types of careers, so they are not going back to their old jobs. So companies can’t ramp up their production back to normal levels, because they don’t have the staff. And then number two, we’re seeing demand for the end product, as you were saying, the demand for the end product is switching to other, slower-moving goods because of the protracted nature of this supply," Ross said. "You don’t see as many shortages of paper towels and toilet paper anymore. But if you walk down the aisle at Walgreens, you see big empty shelf spaces on virtually every aisle where things like, I don’t know, Benadryl used to be.”